Flawed EU Data Retention Directive may be costing jobs

19 Apr 2011

MEP-designate Senator Phil Prendergast has warned that Ireland’s overly zealous interpretation of the EU Data Retention Directive could be costing the country jobs, particularly as it discourages investment in the ICT sector.

“If we are going to have a smart economy then we are going to have to get smart about our rules on data retention,” Prendergast said.

“They hit the competitiveness of Irish firms and discourage investment in the ICT sector.”

The soon-to-be-confirmed MEP for Ireland South was speaking following publication of a report by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström which found serious flaws in the EU Data Retention Directive.

Malmström announced a review of the directive, which was introduced in 2006 following terror attacks on London and Madrid.

The report found the directive fails to ensure data is stored and used in a way consistent with the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

Prendergast said: “Anyone concerned about civil liberties is rightly wary of laws that involve retaining personal information. At the same time, the need to protect ourselves from international crime and terrorism is imperative.

“The directive has led to the thwarting of terror attacks and the successful prosecution of criminals, including a massive international paedophile ring.

“But it was not formulated with due regard to the concerns of civil society nor the telecoms and internet service providers.

“The directive has been shot down in some member states on civil liberties grounds, which has meant uneven transposition of an already loose directive across the EU.

“This has led to telecoms having different responsibilities from state to state. For instance, in countries such as Ireland, data is retained for two years while in others the maximum is six months. This means operators are reimbursed differently across the EU for the cost of retaining the data,” Prendergast said.

Under the influence

In Ireland, the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011 was signed into law in January. The Act requires telephone service providers to retain telephone data for two years, and internet data to be retained by internet service providers for 12 months. 

The Act, which transposes into law the controversial EU Data Retention Directive passed in the European Parliament in 2006, will enable a member of An Garda Síochána not below the rank of chief superintendent to instruct an ISP to hand over data as part of a criminal investigation.

The senator warned that Ireland’s rules were developed by a previous government whose attitude to civil liberties was under the influence of the Bush administration in the US.

“In the coming months, stakeholders in civil society, industry, justice and policing will have the chance to contribute to the commission’s review. It is important that fair and effective rules are developed as a result.

“I will be arguing for a rebalanced approach based on evidence supporting the use of data retention in crime fighting.

“Ireland needs play smart on this. Security threats to member states differ across the EU. Ireland is not at high risk, so there is no reason for us to have such stringent rules. It’s hurting civil rights and could be costing us much-needed jobs,” she warned.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years