Digital Civil Rights in Europe

Article published in EDRi-gram 6.18

70 international experts and e-activists met in Budapest on Friday 19 September to discuss EU-wide policies on data retention and to develop strategies for defending and enhancing privacy. Hosted by the Center for Media and Communication Studies (CMCS) at the Central European University in Budapest, the workshop “Data retention on the Internet: Challenges for small, alternative and citizen-based internet service providers (ISPs)” brought together scholars, lawyers, policy experts, digital rights advocates and a large number of grassroots/activist ISPs. EDRI was represented through its board member Meryem Marzouki and Digital Rights Ireland, Electronic Frontier Finland, Iuridicum Remedium, Netzwerk Neue Medien and Greennet.

According to European Union (EU) Directive 2006/24/EC, all telecommunication operators and ISPs in the EU have to retain the email and telephone connection data of their customers and users for up to two years. Data about every citizen’s communication is stored without a specific reason. According to workshop participant TJ McIntyre from Digital Rights Ireland, this allows the creation of a “comprehensive digital dossier about every individual.”

Workshop participants exchanged information about the implementation of the Directive in different EU member states and explored options of challenging data retention on three different levels: legal complaints and court cases, technological by-passes, and public campaigns. On the legal side, the workshop brought together organizations that are challenging data retention laws in five different countries and allowed them to exchange experiences and increase future collaborations. In the technical realm, different options of minimizing the risks of data retention, or circumventing it altogether, were introduced. The workshop also contributed to the preparation for an international day of action against data retention – entitled “Freedom not Fear” – on 11 October. Many of the groups and organizations that were represented at the workshop agreed to organize a protest action or a public event on that day.

The workshop was the first to bring together members of non-commercial ISPs from different countries with members of international campaigns and NGOs to discuss together the new policy environment and this sector’s particular concerns. The EU directive forces these ISPs to compromise on their most fundamental objective – protecting their users’ privacy from state and corporate data gathering. Grassroots ISPs continued to meet on the weekend following the workshop and developed strategies on how to maximise privacy protection despite data retention obligations.

The workshop was organized by Arne Hintz (CMCS), Oliver Leistert (University of Paderborn), and Maxigas (Zold Pok/Green Spider), in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and EDRI. It was supported financially by the Dutch Internet provider XS4ALL, the Open Society Institute (OSI), and APC.

Center for Media and Communication Studies
http://cmcs.ceu.hu

Association for Progressive Communications
http://www.apc.org

Zold Pok (Green Spider)
http://www.zpok.hu

EU directive paints alternative ISPs black (3.08.2008)
http://www.apc.org/en/news/security/europe/eu-directive-paints-alterna…

EDRi-gram – Telecom data retention
http://www.edri.org/issues/privacy/dataretention

(Contribution by Arne Hintz – Center for Media and Communication Studies)

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