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Privacy International has joined forces with dozens of other human rights and civil liberties organizations around the world to ask the European Parliament to reject a Directive that would seriously compromise personal freedom in the EU. Below is the text of the letter to Members of the European Parliament, and the pdf is also available.

To all Members of the European Parliament

We the undersigned are calling on you to reject the 'Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the Retention of Data Processed in Connection with the Provision of Public Electronic Communication Services and Amending Directive 2002/58/EC' when it comes to a plenary vote on December 12, 2005.

Adopting this Directive would cause an irreversible shift in civil liberties within the European Union. It will adversely affect consumer rights throughout Europe. And it will generate an unprecedented obstacle to the global competitiveness of European industry.

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In response to the London bombings in July 2005, the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the UK's Presidency of the EU are proposing a number of additional measures including a border registration programme that will mimic US-VISIT, and access to databases on immigrants that will mimic the failed MATRIX programme. The measures are discussed in 'next steps' for the EU (available on the Statewatch website).

Sharing immigration data

Despite the fact that the London bombings were perpretated by EU citizens the Council is calling for greater access to visa databases.

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‘Indymedia’ (IMC) describes itself as ‘a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues.’ According to Indymedia, its content is widely read, with the transfer of over 3.2 terabytes of information a month, serving over 18 million page views a month.

On October 7, 2004, over 20 websites administered by the Independent Media Center were taken off-line. This was a result of the seizing of two servers, named ‘Ahimsa1’ and ‘Ahimsa2’, that served the content of a number of media ‘collectives’ around the world.

While there is no central hub to this organisation, a volunteer for IMC established a contractual relationship with Rackspace Managed Hosting, a San Antonio-based Internet hosting company. The servers were physically located in London, England. The contract was between Rackspace UK and the said individual.

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The UK Presidency's first formal report, entitled 'Liberty and Security: Striking the Right Balance', was released today. It argues the case for new and expansive policies on communications surveillance, biometrics, travel surveillance, and CCTV. In fact, it promises to take UK policy failures to the European level.

Communications data retention

Despite having only a voluntary framework in UK law, the UK Presidency of the EU is pursuing mandatory data retention in a framework decision at the Council. The report argues that in terror investigations in the UK, half of all data requests are for data over six months old. In an effort to reduce industry opposition, the UK claims that retention only cost a certain mobile phone network 1.2 million euros for 12 months. It states that retention will not apply to internet data except for 'logs-on and logs off' though this is not clarified.

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The below letter was addresses to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Viviane Reding (Commissioner for Information Society and Media) and Franco Frattini (Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security).

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In a tipping of the hat to the Americans, the UK is set to establish the largest border surveillance programme to date.  The new programme will involve the collection of biometrics on visitors to the UK, the generation of vast information stores on all Britons and visitors, and a profiling system to identify those worthy of further scrutiny.

This programme does not merely apply to combatting terrorism however; it is for use for general policing matters.

We have archived the 'partial' regulatory impact assessment here.

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The French government is considering the implementation of a new project, Project INES (Identite National Electronique Securisee), which will involve a system very similar to the one proposed in the UK. The French are even using similar statements, such as 'international obligations', 'terrorism', and concern regarding 'identity theft'. The Forum for Civil Liberties on the Internet ("Le Forum des droits sur l'internet) was asked by then Minister of the Interior Dominique de Villepin to conduct a consultation round on the issue. On June 16 the Forum submitted its final report. The 45-page report is available on the organisation's website.

Among the key recommendations, are

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In an effort to reconcile its policy laundering tendencies with the lack of a national law on retention, the Government has succeeded in quietly implementing data retention into its Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) bill (now an Act).

This Bill itself was first introduced in December 2002, and made slow progress. It was introduced to the Seanad in February 2005, and in Committee stage, retention was introduced. The bill was passed shortly aftewards.

The amendments call for data retention at all fixed line and mobile phone service providers for 3 years.

The purpose behind the amendments was to, according to the Minister for Justice, Malcolm McDowell, "give a solid basis in Irish law to the retention of communication data and to protect people in a way that is not done at the moment." He argued that this information "is an essential aid .. in the fight against crime and in combating terrorism and, ... the protection and security of the State."

The Minister argued that this information is generated by phone companies for charging purposes.

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The Government Accounting Office of the US government reports that creating a new system to keep track of the locations of aliens or visitors to the US is of 'questionable' value. This report, required by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, reflects the challenges faced by INS when they were asked to identify the location of over 4000 individuals in the days after 11th September 2001.

Most of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents who were consulted in the writing of this report admitted that alien address reporting "would have limited utility in assisting them in locating nonimmigrant aliens" because these people are not likely to self-report their location changes if they do not want to be found. Instead, agents tend to rely on access to other databases such as those of benefits services, motor vehicle departments, internet search engines, court filings and credit bureaux.

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In a move that mimics the U.S. fingerprinting policy under the VISIT programme, the European Commission has adopted a proposal for a regulation that would create a central database for all visa applicants fingerprints and photos. Regulation available on the Europa website.

In a somewhat positive turn, it is important to note that the retention period of this data is only five years, compared to 100 years in the U.S. Relevant excerpts include:

To ensure exact verification and identification of visa applicants, it is necessary to process biometric data in the VIS. This allows the verification and identification independent from the existence, presentation and malfunctioning of other storage media like microchips."

(9) To ensure exact verification and identification of visa applicants, it is necessary to process biometric data in the VIS.

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