Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Proposed German telecoms data retention law and freedom of the the press

Also via EDRI-gram, Spielel Online International reports concerns that a proposed new German telecoms data retention law would underine the freedom of the press.

"It may soon no longer be a good idea to tell a journalist something confidential over the phone in Germany. It would also perhaps be prudent to avoid sending e-mails, faxes or text messages. In the future, sources might be better off furtively intercepting reporters on their way home, writing letters, or sending smoke signals.

As of Jan. 1, 2008, this kind of cautious behavior may be advisable -- that is if the German parliament, the Bundestag, approves a bill next week that would effectively remove all protection of journalists' sources when it comes to telecom and Internet communications...

At issue here is a fairly unwieldy piece of draft legislation, namely an amendment to Germany's law on telecommunications surveillance. The government proposal submitted by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries calls for telecom providers to retain all communications data from their customers, all landline and mobile calls, faxes, text messages and e-mails. This would mean that all electronic communications in Germany would be recorded, whether the parties concerned are under investigation or not.

Germany's surveillance mania concerns everyone in the country, but when it comes to journalists it concerns the way they do their job. Data protection advocates call mandatory data retention an excessive and constitutionally dubious measure. Critics say that it would violate the principle of communications secrecy and the right to privacy in the information age."

The article is a decent general introduction to data retention in the EU, how the directive was passed last year with a typical piece of political game-playing to avoid procedures that would have blocked it, and the implications at member state level. It mentions that Ireland is challenging the directive through the European courts though fails to mention that that is because the Irish govenrment wants longer data retention than that mandated by the directive. And the German justice minister thinks she's being badly mistreated in the press because it's not her fault that Germany has to implement an EU directive... do the words 'laundering' and 'policy' come to mind, not necessarily in that order? (In fairness the Germans, as I recall, did make a superficial show of opposing the directive but they could easily have killed it if they really wanted to. The fact that they didn't actually do so speaks volumes)

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