[>Htech] NYT: Europe's Plan to Track Phone and Net Use
checker at panix.com
Tue Feb 20 11:05:47 PST 2007
Europe's Plan to Track Phone and Net Use
By VICTORIA SHANNON
PARIS, Feb. 19 -- European governments are preparing legislation to
require companies to keep detailed data about people's Internet and
phone use that goes beyond what the countries will be required to
do under a European Union directive.
In Germany, a proposal from the Ministry of Justice would
essentially prohibit using false information to create an e-mail
account, making the standard Internet practice of creating accounts
with pseudonyms illegal.
A draft law in the Netherlands would likewise go further than the
European Union requires, in this case by requiring phone companies
to save records of a caller's precise location during an entire
mobile phone conversation.
Even now, Internet service providers in Europe divulge customer
information -- which they normally keep on hand for about three
months, for billing purposes -- to police officials with legally
valid orders on a routine basis, said Peter Fleischer, the
Paris-based European privacy counsel for Google. The data concerns
how the communication was sent and by whom but not its content.
But law enforcement officials argued after the terrorist bombings
in Spain and Britain that they needed better and longer data
storage from companies handling Europe's communications networks.
European Union countries have until 2009 to put the Data Retention
Directive into law, so the proposals seen now are early
interpretations. But some people involved in the issue are
concerned about a shift in policy in Europe, which has long been a
defender of individuals' privacy rights.
Under the proposals in Germany, consumers theoretically could not
create fictitious e-mail accounts, to disguise themselves in online
auctions, for example. Nor could they use a made-up account to use
for receiving commercial junk mail. While e-mail aliases would not
be banned, they would have to be traceable to the actual account
"This is an incredibly bad thing in terms of privacy, since people
have grown up with the idea that you ought to be able to have an
anonymous e-mail account," Mr. Fleischer said. "Moreover, it's
totally unenforceable and would never work."
Mr. Fleischer said the law would have to require some kind of
identity verification, "like you may have to register for an e-mail
address with your national ID card."
Jvrg Hladjk, a privacy lawyer at Hunton & Williams, a Brussels law
firm, said that might also mean that it could become illegal to pay
cash for prepaid cellphone accounts. The billing information for
regular cellphone subscriptions is already verified.
Mr. Fleischer said: "It's ironic, because Germany is one of the
countries in Europe where people talk the most about privacy. In
terms of consciousness of privacy in general, I would put Germany
at the extreme end."
He said it was not clear that any European law would apply to
e-mail providers based in the United States, like Google, so anyone
who needed an unverified e-mail address -- for political,
commercial or philosophical reasons -- could still use Gmail, Yahoo
or Hotmail addresses.
Mr. Hladjk said, "It's going to be difficult to know which law
applies." Google requires only two pieces of information to open a
Gmail account -- a name and a password -- and the company does not
try to determine whether the name is authentic.
In the Netherlands, the proposed extension of the law on phone
company records to all mobile location data "implies surveillance
of the movement of large amounts of innocent citizens," the Dutch
Data Protection Agency has said. The agency concluded in January
that the draft disregarded privacy protections in the European
Convention on Human Rights. Similarly, the German technology trade
association Bitkom said the draft there violated the German
Internet and telecommunications industry associations raised
objections when the directive was being debated, but at that time
their concerns were for the length of time the data would have to
be stored and how the companies would be compensated for the cost
of gathering and keeping the information. The directive ended up
leaving both decisions in the hands of national governments,
setting a range of six months to two years. The German draft
settled on six months, while in Spain the proposal is for a year,
and in the Netherlands it is 18 months.
"There are not a lot of people in Germany who support this draft
entirely," said Christian Spahr, a spokesman for Bitkom. "But there
are others who are more critical of it than we are."
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