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EU accused of whitewash in data retention report

Privacy groups have accused the European Union of a whitewash after the publication of a long-delayed and widely-leaked official report into blanket surveillance under the controversial 2006 Data Retention Directive.

The Directive requires details of all phone calls, text messages, emails and IP address information from web browsing anywhere in Europe to be recorded and stored. Spearheaded by the UK's New Labour government in the wake of the 2005 London bombings, it was part of a move towards more intrusive surveillance to counter perceived terrorist threats.

While the Directive concerns only 'traffic details' - that is, information about who's contacting whom and when, rather than the actual content of communications - it has met with widespread opposition, leading to the European Commission's evaluation report.

One leading critic, the Open Rights Group, calls the legislation "incompatible with human rights", and wholesale monitoring of communications has been rejected as unconstitutional by the courts in Germany and the Czech Republic. Online rights group Digital Rights Ireland is also seeking to challenge the law before the European Court of Justice.

But in spite of these misgivings, Monday's report (PDF) by the European Commission finds that "data retention is a valuable tool for criminal justice systems and for law enforcement in the EU" - and provides no recommendation that the proposed review of the legislation should take a look at the more fundamental questions over its validity.

Instead, the Commission offers the fairly minor recommendations that the Directive should be enforced consistently across Europe, as well as ensuring that communications operators are reimbursed for data retention.

Following the report's earlier leak, online rights group European Digital Rights (EDRi) released its own 'shadow' document, which calls for the scrapping of indiscriminate data retention.

In a statement, EDRi called the Data Retention Directive an "unprecedented and unnecessary infringement" of EU citizens' fundamental rights, and said:

"European citizens have gained nothing from the Data Retention Directive, but lost their privacy," noting that in its report the Commission "fails to prove that data retention is a necessary instrument to fight serious crime".

The report, which you can read in full here (PDF) makes a direct appeal to Commissioners for more radical reform:

"European Digital Rights urges the European Commission to reject dogmatism, reject pressure from certain Member States and to respect the Charter on Fundamental Rights by proposing amendments to the Directive that reject the principle of blanket and indiscriminate telecommunications data retention."