The European Commission was to submit a bill yesterday that would force phone networks in the EU to retain traffic data for one year -- and Internet access providers for six months -- for possible use in investigating organized crime and terrorism.
The bill -- which in recent years has stalled over privacy issues -- must win approval from all 25 EU governments to take effect.
Negotiations on data retention have made no progress in the past due to privacy concerns in some EU capitals and the European Parliament, and cost concerns in the telecommunications industry.
EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said the bill would not apply to the content of communications -- only to numbers dialed, locations used and Web sites that police may want to explore in connection with investigations.
He said fundamental rights have been carefully weighed in the drafting of the bill, and said data protection authorities would be involved in evaluating the legislation.
Telecommunications companies will be compensated for extra costs incurred as a result of the bill, Frattini added. Industry officials have put the added cost of retaining large volumes of data at a US$122 million or more.
"This proposal is a very balanced and constructive one which takes account of the fundamental rights to security, to a private life and protection of personal data, as well as different interests, in particular those of law enforcement authorities and communication providers," Frattini said in a statement.
He also proposed that the EU sign the 46-nation Council's anti-terrorism treaty, which aims to deny funding to terrorists.
Frattini also issued a report on how governments can stop young Europeans from drifting into fundamentalist Islam, and proposed spending US$8.5 million on pilot projects to improve anti-terrorism cooperation between EU governments.
The data retention issue gained new urgency after the July 7 London public transport bombings that killed 52 people and the four suspected suicide bombers, and the failed bombings there two weeks later.
After the second round of attacks, British police tracked a suspect to Italy on the basis of his cell phone traffic.
The bill now on the table replaces one that a handful of EU governments have proposed, but that would lack the power of EU-wide law, sideline the European Parliament and require telecommunications and Internet operators to retain traffic data for up to four years.
"The Commission proposal now puts data retention rules on a sound legal basis, ensures the full [participation] of the European Parliament and limits the data retention periods to the extent absolutely necessary," said Frattini.
Britain, which now holds the EU's rotating presidency, has pledged to get the EU to enact an ambitious anti-terrorism package by year's end. That includes the data retention bill and steps to boost airport security, share more intelligence and upgrade passports and identity cards.
EU governments now have a mishmash of data retention rules: 15 of the 25 EU states have no legislation, according to EU officials.