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European Union30 May 2002

Confidentiality of professional and personal communications under threat

image 120 x 87 (GIF) On 30 May, the European Parliament adopted a new legislation which will give investigators greater powers to eavesdrop on private data on the Internet and other electronic records like people’s phone calls. The amendment passed by a vote of 497 to 351.

On 24 May, Reporters Without Borders called on Euro-MPs to vote against the article 15 of the proposed amendment to the 1997 European directive on protection of telecommunications data and information to be considered by the European Parliament on 29 May.

"The trend towards abuses in the name of security since the 11 September attacks must not lead to laws reducing freedom of expression for Europeans," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to European Parliament president Pat Cox. "Such an article would jeopardise the right of journalists not to reveal their sources, as well as the confidentiality of professional and personal communications, by allowing unrestricted interception, storage and inspection of the content of phone calls, faxes, e-mails and web navigation."

The article 15 of the amendment, proposed by the Council of the European Union, would allow EU member-states to pass laws authorising the government to keep data on people’s phone and Internet communications and allow police, customs, immigration and intelligence services to have access to them.

The 1997 directive only allows such data to be kept for a short while for specific purposes after which it must be destroyed.  The Council has for years been contemplating such a change but Euro-MPs and critical public opinion have stood in the way.  The amendment is being called for by all member-states as part of anti-terrorism measures, according to the NGO Statewatch. (more information available on

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