By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Under the pre-text of combatting terrorism, the European Commission is mulling a proposed regulation that would require telecommunications companies and internet service providers to retain records of European Citizens’ communications. Courts struck down on constitutional privacy grounds a previous law.
The measure comes just after the deadly terrorist attacks stemming from the Charlie Hebdo rampage in Paris in early January. The situation does appear to a lesser degree reminiscent of the changes in government approaches to privacy in the wake of terrorist outrages in other nations such as those in the United States in 2001 and the railway attacks in Spain and the United Kingdom.
In April of 2014 the European Court of Justice ruled that the previous European Union’s data retention directive requiring telecommunications companies to store customer data for up to two years interfered with citizens’ right to privacy by creating a specter that their private lives would be subject to constant surveillance and hence fostering a chilling effect on speech and privacy.
In response to the court’s ruling, Britain passed an emergency law to require the retention of data for up to a year, sparking protest by privacy rights organizations.
The European Commission’s latest minutes notes that the subject of data retention is once again being strongly considered due in what is proffered to address terrorist threats.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos noted “on the one hand, the fundamental role that telecommunications records could play in the fight against terrorism and, on the other, the importance of adopting a cautious and measured approach”.
Avramopoulos intends to launch a consultation on the issue to determine whether a new law on data retention that respects privacy rights could be prepared over the coming year, according to the minutes.
The approach to preventing terrorist threats is certainly a worthy cause. Yet the balance is obviously difficult for governments, even those having strictly honorable intentions, to maintain.
One of the advantages of data retention is the volume of data. In the terabytes of data transferred every second, real-time monitoring used in looking for a few messages within Internet as a whole is nearly impossible. The approach to this is to make snapshots of targeted data then parsing through data patterns which allows for a more detailed forensic examination. From a technical point of view, this is realistically one of the better methods to monitor broad swaths of the information transmitted.
Yet, the same data retention technique provides the mechanism to utilize the data for any means chosen by those having the data. The definition of what constitutes “The Greater Good” is certainly in the eye of the beholder.
By Darren Smith
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