EU committee backs telecoms data storage rule

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Union committee agreed that details of all EU-wide phone calls and Internet use should be stored, but the steps did not go as far as some member states had wanted in the battle against terrorism and crime.

The European Parliament's civil liberties committee voted by 33 to eight in favour of the new rules on Thursday, whereby details on telephone calls and Internet use -- but not their content -- would be kept for six to 12 months.

Telecoms firms typically store data for three months for billing purposes. Some EU states want it kept for 24 months.

The full Parliament votes on the rules in December, and member states must approve them before they become law.

Alexander Alvaro, the German liberal legislator in charge of the bill in parliament, said after the vote that a more balanced text had emerged, compared with what the European Commission proposed and with what some member states wanted.

"Everything that makes this directive proportionate and balanced is now in, especially concerning the limitation of data types, limitation on storage period, safeguards on access and sanctions," Alvaro told Reuters after the vote.

"It had a two-thirds majority in committee, and I think this is a quite realistic estimation for plenary too," Alvaro added.

Britain, which currently holds the EU presidency, said it was committed to getting agreement on the rules by year-end.

The March 2004 train bombings in Madrid and July 7 attacks in London have prompted authorities to step up EU-wide efforts against terrorism and serious crime.

Separately, the European Commission proposed that national police have limited access to a database due by the end of next year to store data on people who apply for visas to EU countries in the Schengen area -- a free movement zone made up of all EU countries but Britain, Ireland and the 10 new member states.

Such a measure would require the approval of EU countries.

The committee also voted that member states should reimburse telecoms firms for the additional costs of complying with the new rules.

The lawmakers voted in favour of inserting a provision in the bill to ensure "effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties" for infringements of the rules.

The committee agreed that only a judge could authorise access to telephone and Internet traffic, a condition absent in the Commission proposal.

"The Council (of member states) has about 10 key flashpoints. They have problems with the costs, the limitations on types of data, and they have problems with access to data and the sanctions," Alvaro said.

Details on a fixed-line call would include name and address of caller, number dialled, name and address of the receiver, the date and the start and completion times of the call.

Details of a mobile phone call would include a subscriber's identity number or SIM card and their location.

Internet data would include the IP address of the computer, telephone number of the Internet connection, name and address of the subscriber and the date and time of logging in and off.

Pan-European telecoms, mobile phone and Internet company associations said in a joint statement that the retention periods put forward by parliament were still too long and the scope of data too wide.

"Retaining traffic data for longer periods will only produce more data volumes, without increasing the quality of information," they said.
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