MEP condemns plan to give authorities access to stored search logs

Out-Law News | 04 Jun 2010 | 2:29 pm | 2 min. read

An MEP has warned colleagues not to sign a declaration demanding that search engines keep a record of searches for examination by authorities. Cecilia Wikström said she had signed the declaration but has now withdrawn her support.

Two MEPs have proposed a 'written declaration' to set up a system they say will act as an 'early warning' system to identify paedophiles and other sex offenders. A written declaration has no legislative effect, but if adopted by the EU Parliament it will be formally communicated to the European Commission in a bid to influence its policy.

The Data Retention Directive means that telecoms operators keep details of the use of their systems for a period, set country by country, of between six and 24 months. Details of calls made and internet usage are kept but not the content of the communications.

Tiziano Motti and Anna Záborská have proposed the call for an 'early warning' system and also for an extension of the Data Retention Directive to the content of communications, to search engine use.

Wikström said that the declaration is not clear enough about the data retention amendments and has called on other signatories to withdraw their support.

"When signing written declarations, sometimes one too quickly signs declarations that sound good," she said in a letter to MEPs, a copy of which was provided by her office. "For example a written declaration on setting up a European early warning system (EWS) for paedophiles and sex offenders (no 29). I signed this declaration in an early stage but have now withdrawn my signature."

"Both of the two e-mails sent to MEPs focused on the early warning system and neither mentioned the data retention Directive," she said. "The website set up to support the written declaration also does not mention data retention, at least not in an obvious way. Even the written declaration itself does not mention the Directive by name, but only refers to its reference.

The Declarataion says that the Parliament "asks the Council and the Commission to implement [the Data Retention Directive] and extend it to search engines in order to tackle online child pornography and sex offending rapidly and effectively".

"[The Parliament] calls on the Member States to coordinate a European early warning system involving their public authorities, based on the existing system for food safety, as a means of tackling paedophilia and sex offending number," it says.

Wikström said that she supported attempts to identify sex offenders but that changes to the Data Retention Directive are not a good way to do this.

"The Written Declaration is supposed to be about an early-warning system for the protection of children. Long-term storage of citizens’ data has clearly nothing to do with 'early warning' for any purpose," she said."The 'data preservation' system established by the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention was designed specifically for cases requiring urgent preservation of data in relation to ongoing investigations."

"Bearing in mind the fact that data retention is not relevant to an early-warning system and that none of the material made available to MEPs on the subject mentioned data retention, it seems very likely that MEPs signed the Written Declaration unaware of this aspect of the text, just like I did," she said.

Wikström, a Swedish Liberal Party MEP, said that the Data Retention Directive was under review and that it would be wrong for Parliament to seek to make changes to it now.

"The review of the Data Retention Directive is currently underway, with a report expected from the Commission in September," she wrote to colleagues. "The Directive was adopted under the previous legislature after severe pressure from the Council and despite being repeatedly rejected by the Civil Liberties Committee."

"Following such a difficult adoption in the European Parliament, implementation problems in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Romania and Sweden and in advance of the Commission’s report on implementation of the Directive, it is clearly inappropriate for the Parliament to take a position on this topic now," she said.