Civil society calls for an end to compulsory telecommunications data retention (28 June 2010)

More than 100 organisations from 23 European countries last week asked EU Commissioners Malmström, Reding and Kroes in a joint letter to "propose the repeal of the EU requirements regarding data retention in favour of a system of expedited preservation and targeted collection of traffic data". Among the signatories are civil liberties, data protection and human rights associations as well as crisis line and emergency call operators, professional associations of journalists, jurists and doctors, trade unions, consumer organisations and industry associations.

The EU data retention directive, adopted in 2006, currently compels phone and Internet companies to indiscriminately collect data about all of their customers' communications. According to last week's letter, such generalised data retention puts confidential activity and contacts, for example with journalists, crisis lines and business partners, at risk of disclosure by way of data leaks and abuses. "Blanket data retention has proven to be superfluous, harmful or even unconstitutional in many states across Europe", criticises the letter.

"Civil society across Europe agrees that the EU-wide requirement to retain the entire population's communications data, introduced in 2006, is outdated", comments Patrick Breyer of the Working Group on Data Retention, a civil liberties NGO. "Where data retention has been implemented, the crime clearance rate has not increased. For example in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populated state of Germany, 85% of all reported Internet crime was cleared in 2007 before the introduction of data retention legislation, but only 77% was cleared in 2008 and in 2009 after the implementation of data retention. The EU regulations must now be made more flexible to allow for alternative procedures that work more intelligently than an untargeted stockpiling of data."

"According to a German survey, about 70% of citizens are opposed to a recording of their contacts and location in the absence of any suspicion", says Florian Altherr of the Working Group. "They want to be sure that their private and business contacts to marital crisis lines, lawyers, journalists and others cannot fall into the wrong hands or erroneously make them a suspect in the eyes of law enforcement authorities. The countless number of data scandals such as the systematic abuse of communications data at Deutsche Telekom have taught us that only erased data is safe data."

Full text of the letter


  1. Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs
  2. Viviane Reding, European Commission Vice-President with responsibility for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
  3. Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President with responsibility for the Digital Agenda

Dear Madam,

The EU data retention directive 2006/24 requires telecommunications companies to store data about all of their customers' communications. Although ostensibly to reduce barriers to the single market, the Directive was proposed as a measure aimed at facilitating criminal investigations. The Directive creates a process for recording details of who communicated with whom via various electronic communications systems. In the case of mobile phone calls and SMS messages, the respective location of the users is also recorded. In combination with other data, Internet usage is also to be made traceable.

We believe that such invasive surveillance of the entire population is unacceptable. With a data retention regime in place, sensitive information about social contacts (including business contacts), movements and the private lives (e.g. contacts with physicians, lawyers, workers councils, psychologists, helplines, etc) of 500 million Europeans is collected in the absence of any suspicion. Telecommunications data retention undermines professional confidentiality, creating the permanent risk of data losses and data abuses and deters citizens from making confidential communications via electronic communication networks. It undermines the protection of journalistic sources and thus compromises the freedom of the press. Overall it damages preconditions of our open and democratic society. In the absence of a financial compensation scheme in most countries, the enormous costs of a telecommunications data retention regime must be borne by the thousands of affected telecommunications providers. This leads to price increases as well as the discontinuation of services, and indirectly burdens consumers.

Studies prove that the communications data available without data retention are generally sufficient for effective criminal investigations. Blanket data retention has proven to be superfluous, harmful or even unconstitutional in many states across Europe, such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Romania and Sweden. These states prosecute crime just as effectively using targeted instruments, such as the data preservation regime agreed in the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. There is no proof that telecommunications data retention provides for better protection against crime. On the other hand, we can see that it costs billions of euros, puts the privacy of innocent people at risk, disrupts confidential communications and paves the way for an ever-increasing mass accumulation of information about the entire population.

Legal experts expect the European Court of Justice to follow the Constitutional Court of Romania as well as the European Court of Human Rights's Marper judgement and declare the retention of telecommunications data in the absence of any suspicion incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

As representatives of the citizens, the media, professionals and industry we collectively reject the Directive on telecommunications data retention. We urge you to propose the repeal of the EU requirements regarding data retention in favour of a system of expedited preservation and targeted collection of traffic data as agreed in the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime. In doing so, please be assured of our support.

Yours faithfully,

  1. Patrick Breyer for the Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (Working Group on Data Retention), Germany
  2. Gergana Jouleva for the Access to Information Programme, Bulgaria
  3. Terri Dowty for Action on Rights for Children, UK
  4. Rainer Hammerschmidt for Aktion Freiheit statt Angst e.V., Germany
  5. Andrea Monti for ALCEI - Electronic Frontiers Italy, Italy
  6. David Banisar for ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, UK
  7. Dr. Roland Lemye for Association Belge des Syndicats Médicaux, Belgium
  8. Alen Nanov for the Association for Advising, Treatment, Resocialization and Reintegration of Drug Users and Other Marginalized and Vulnerable Groups IZBOR, Macedonia
  9. Bogdan Manolea for the Association for Technology and Internet - APTI, Romania
  10. Martine Simonis for L'association Générale des Journalistes Professionnels de Belgique (AGJPB), Belgium
  11. Ute Groth for bdfj Bundesvereinigung der Fachjournalisten e.V., Germany
  12. Ot van Daalen for Bits of Freedom, The Netherlands
  13. Gabriele Nicolai for Berufsverband Deutscher Psychologinnen und Psychologen e.V., Germany
  14. Torsten Bultmann for Bund demokratischer Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler e.V., Germany
  15. Marina Jelic for Center for Peace and Democracy Development CPDD, Serbia
  16. Sabiha Husic for Citizens' Association Medica Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  17. Zdenko Duka for the Croatian Journalists' Association CJA, Croatia
  18. Christian Jeitler for Cyber Liberties Union, Austria
  19. Vagn Jelsoe for the Danish Consumer Council, Denmark
  20. Karl Lemmen, Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe e.V., Germany
  21. Ulrich Janßen for Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union dju in ver.di, Germany
  22. Michael Konken for Deutscher Journalisten-Verband, Germany
  23. Stefanie Severin for DFJV Deutscher Fachjournalisten-Verband AG, Germany
  24. TJ McIntyre for Digital Rights Ireland, Ireland
  25. Martina Haan for DPV Deutscher Presse Verband – Verband für Journalisten e.V., Germany
  26. Prof. Michael Rotert for eco - Association of the German Internet Industry, Germany
  27. Eleni Alevritou for EKPIZO Consumers Association the Quality of Life, Greece
  28. Ville Oksanen for Electronic Frontier Finland, Finland
  29. Katitza Rodriguez for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, U.S.A.
  30. Thomas Gramstad for Electronic Frontier Norway, Norway
  31. Máté Dániel Szabó for Eötvös Károly Institute, Hungary
  32. Andreas Krisch for European Digital Rights, Europe
  33. Anne Margrethe Lund, European Movement in Norway, Norway
  34. Werner Korsten for the Evangelische Konferenz für Telefonseelsorge und Offene Tür e.V., Germany
  35. Simona Conservas for exgae, Spain
  36. Stefan Hügel for FIfF - Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung e.V., Germany
  37. padeluun for FoeBuD e.V., Germany
  38. Beate Ziegler for Forum Menschenrechte, Germany
  39. Stephan Uhlmann for the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) e.V., Europe
  40. Valentina Pellizzer for Foundation Oneworld - platform for Southeast Europe (owpsee), Bosnia & Herzegovina
  41. Ross Anderson for FIPR Foundation for Information Policy Research, UK
  42. Lutz Donnerhacke for FITUG e.V., Germany
  43. Matthias Kirschner for Free Software Foundation Europe FSFE, Europe
  44. Martin Grauduszus for Freie Ärzteschaft e.V., Germany
  45. Jürgen Wahlmann for e.V., Germany
  46. Christoph Klug for Gesellschaft für Datenschutz und Datensicherheit e.V. (GDD), Germany
  47. Arvind Ganesan for Human Rights Watch, international
  48. Joyce Hes for Humanistisch Verbond, The Netherlands
  49. Sven Lüders for Humanistische Union e.V., Germany
  50. Dr. Balázs Dénes for the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Hungary
  51. Jo Glanville for Index on Censorship, UK
  52. Dr. Rolf Gössner for Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte (Berlin), Germany
  53. Rudi Vansnick for Internet Society Belgium, Belgium
  54. Veni Markovski for the Internet Society Bulgaria, Bulgaria
  55. Gérard Dantec for the Internet Society France, France
  56. Jan Willem Broekema for Internet Society, The Netherlands
  57. Marcin Cieślak for the Internet Society Poland, Poland
  58. Eamonn Wallace for IrelandOffline, Ireland
  59. Mark Kelly for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland
  60. Niels Elgaard Larsen for the IT-Political Association of Denmark, Denmark
  61. Markéta Nováková for Iuridicum Remedium, Czech Republic
  62. Milan Antonijevic for Koalicija za slobodu pristupa informacijama (Coalition for Free Access to Information), Serbia
  63. Elke Steven for the Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie, Germany
  64. Agata Szczerbiak for Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critic), Poland
  65. Jérémie Zimmermann for La Quadrature du Net, France
  66. Milan Antonijevic for Lawyers Commitee for Human Rights YUCOM, Serbia
  67. Klaus Jetz for Lesben- und Schwulenverband LSVD, Germany
  68. Isabella Sankey for Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties), UK
  69. Astrid Thienpont for Liga voor Mensenrechten (Human Rights League), Belgium
  70. Manuel Lambert for Ligue des droits de l’Homme (Human Rights League), Belgium
  71. Bardhyl Jashari for Metamorphosis Foundation, Macedonia
  72. Christian Bahls for MOGiS e.V., Germany
  73. Dennis Grabowski for naiin - no abuse in internet e.V., Germany
  74. Thomas Bruning for Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten, The Netherlands
  75. Harry Hummel for Netherlands Helsinki Committee, The Netherlands
  76. Albrecht Ude for netzwerk recherche e.V., Germany
  77. Christine Nordmann for Neue Richtervereinigung e.V., Germany
  78. Phil Booth for NO2ID, UK
  79. Jim Killock for Open Rights Group, UK
  80. Laurence Evrard for the Ordre des barreaux francophones et germanophone, Belgium
  81. Annelies Verstraete for the Orde van Vlaamse Balies, Belgium
  82. Katarzyna Szymielewicz for Panoptykon Foundation, Poland
  83. Stefan Kaminski for the Polish Chamber of Commerce for Electronics and Telecommunications, Poland
  84. Simon Davies for Privacy International, UK
  85. Mag. Georg Markus Kainz for q/uintessenz, Austria
  86. Christian Rickerts for Reporter ohne Grenzen e.V., Germany
  87. Jean Francois Julliard for Reporters Sans Frontières, international
  88. Carsten Gericke for Republikanischer Anwältinnen- und Anwälteverein e.V., Germany
  89. Walter van Holst for ScriptumLibre Foundation/Stichting, The Netherlands
  90. Tony Bunyan for Statewatch, UK
  91. Janet de Jonge for Stichting Meldpunt Misbruik ID-plicht, The Netherlands
  92. Hans van der Giessen for the board of Stichting NBIP - Nationale Beheersorganisatie Internet Providers, The Netherlands
  93. Lars-Henrik Paarup Michelsen for Stopp Datalagringsdirektivet, Norway
  94. Paul Jansen for The dotindividual Foundation, The Netherlands
  95. Karin Ajaxon for the Julia Group, Sweden
  96. Bernadette Ségol for UNI europa, Belgium
  97. Frank Bsirske for United Services Union (ver.di - Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft), Germany
  98. Dr. Carla Meyer for Verband der Freien Lektorinnen und Lektoren VFLL e.V., Germany
  99. Dr. Werner Weishaupt for Verband freier Psychotherapeuten, Heilpraktiker für Psychotherapie und Psychologischer Berater e.V., Germany
  100. Gerd Billen for Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V., Germany
  101. Prof. Dr. Wulf Dietrich for Verein demokratischer Ärztinnen und Ärzte, Germany
  102. Anna Bauer for Vereinigung Demokratischer Juristinnen und Juristen e.V., Germany
  103. Arnout Veenman for the Vereniging ISPConnect Nederland, The Netherlands
  104. Miek Wijnberg for Vereniging Vrijbit, The Netherlands
  105. Daniel Jahre for Verein Linuxwochen, Austria
  106. Claudio Agosti for the Winston Smith Project, Italy

Download the letter (pdf):

Information in other languages:

Replies (pdf):