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EU Moves To Monitor All Internet Traffic

European Union (EU) governments are trying to relax stringent data protection rules to guarantee police and law enforcement agencies' access to private phone calls and emails.

The directive draft proposes law enforcement authorities will maintain logs of all Internet traffic for up to seven years, a move that would increase police powers to intercept communications data.

The Guardian newspaper details, "diplomats in Brussels said the intention was to 'strike a balance' between the citizen's right to privacy and the need to catch cybercriminals and purveyors of pornography and racial hatred using the internet or other electronic means."

The initiative is contained in a draft proposal from the EU on the processing of personal data in the electronic communications sector. The directive places responsibility in the hands of network operators and service providers such as ISPs.

The EU suggests current laws on data protection and privacy have to be reviewed to enable the retention of traffic data for the investigation of "crime." All future laws, including the proposals currently being discussed on the protection of privacy and computer-aided crime should ensure the retention of data.

In short, "every phone call, every mobile phone call, every fax, every e-mail, every Web site's contents, all Internet usage, from anywhere, by everyone, to be recorded, archived and be accessible for at least seven years," according to independent EU and UK watchdog, Statewatch.

Enforcement agencies have expressed "serious apprehensions" about the directive in its current form, according to a document leaked to Statewatch.

However, "Britain is strongly backing the move," the Guardian says, "which it insists is necessary to allow police and the security services to trace information."

A joint decision between the Council of ministers and the European Parliament is needed for the proposal to be accepted by the Telecommunications Council in June and the Council can block parliamentary decisions.

Current EU legislation forces law enforcers to get permission every time they want to tap electronic communications or search for evidence during investigations. The existing laws also restrict the amount of time that communications firms can keep data before it has to be destroyed.

Although the "resolution" would have no legal force, it would help provide guidelines on what EU member states should request from their telecoms providers.

The EU directive follows moves by US President George Bush to reverse an agreement between America and the EU to ensure the privacy of individuals buying goods over the net. He suggests the requirement could be "burdensome" on US multinational businesses.