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European Council considers extensive EU-wide mass surveillance program

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The European Council has instructed the European Commission to prepare a comprehensive study into how it can increase the amount of electronic data that’s retained by telecommunications operators and service providers. The Council notes that the data retained by these companies for business purposes may not be sufficient for the purposes of fighting crime and plans to use the study to explore solutions for retaining more electronic data.

The Council’s conclusions mention a number of past decisions by European bodies which include:

  • Calls for measures to provide Member States’ law enforcement authorities and Europol with improved access to data
  • Calls for possible solutions for retaining data to include a legislative initiative, taking into account the development of national and EU case law

The Council also considered that any legislative reforms should maintain the legal possibility for the retention of data at both the EU and national level.

The Commission has been tasked with gathering more information and organizing consultations in order to develop these proposed data retention solutions. The conclusions of the study will be reported back to the Council by the end of 2019.

While these electronic data retention plans are currently in the early stages, the wording used by the Council indicates that it plans to use this study as the basis for introducing new laws that would require telecommunications operators and service providers in the EU to preserve electronic data for longer periods than they do currently. Most telecommunications providers offer broadband and mobile data so any new legal data retention requirements would compel these businesses to keep a record of their customer’s internet browsing activity for an extended period of time.

The references to data retention being essential for fighting crime and the suggestion that more data needs to be retained sounds eerily similar to the UK Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (also known as the “Snooper’s Charter”) which requires communication service providers to keep a record of the websites UK internet users visit for one year and gives certain. Ironically certain parts of the “Snooper’s Charter” were ruled to be illegal by the European Court of Justice shortly after it was introduced.

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