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Debates
Wednesday, 14 December 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Explanations of vote
  

Alvaro report (A6-0365/2005)

 
  
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  Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE). – (SV) Mr President, it is an irony of fate that, immediately after having voted through the ‘directive on monitoring’, Parliament awards the Sakharov Prize for transparency and human rights. On the same day that we are building walls to restrict our fellow citizens’ freedom, we give prizes to those who break down these walls in the surrounding world. According to the spin doctors, this directive should give us freedom from murder, terrorism and organised crime but, in reality, it frees us from the democratic ideal more than from anything else.

The good thing about democracy is being able to communicate with whomever one wishes whenever one wishes, without feeling anxious about such communications. The advocates of the directive maintain that the relevant monitoring is necessary for combating the most serious crimes, but they are wrong. The directive would apply in practice to all the crimes listed in the European arrest warrant, that is to say it could be used to pursue those who share files illicitly too. That is why the big media companies are now rejoicing at this new directive. It will allow them to retain their old technology, and they will not need to change over to more modern technology that would enable consumers to save money.

According to the directive, data is to be retained for between 6 and 24 months. In fact, 80% of all e-mails are what are called spam. This is a junk directive that leads to the retention of junk mail, a practice that is scarcely the most effective way of combating organised crime. It costs money and diverts resources away from more effective measures. It is also easy for professional criminals to avoid getting caught in the net.

In the United States, the police quick-freeze data. It is much simpler and more efficient and only affects those specifically suspected of committing a crime. Where were you on 17 March? Whom did you meet? Whom did you sit beside? Did you sit beside a known criminal? How can you prove that you had no contact? How do you know that those whom you regularly e-mail are not hunted by the police as sharers of illicit files on a large scale? How do you prove that it was not material protected by copyright that you sent? Are you aware of the dark sides of those with whom you communicate?

States governed by law will continue to exist and, more often than not, people will only be convicted when guilty, but perhaps the burden of suspicion will only be lifted from them following abusive interrogations and house searches. The Greens voted against this directive.

 
  
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  Luca Romagnoli (NI).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am voting against the data retention directive, primarily because it is intrusive and technically unworkable.

The only threat to security is the threat to people’s right to privacy. This directive does not actually target suspects, those under investigation or known offenders, but pokes its nose into everyone’s affairs indiscriminately. The aim of this directive is to institutionalise horrendous discrimination against the vast majority of citizens, honest and peace-loving people, whom we should instead be protecting from this kind of abuse.

We cannot consent to having a controlled system of constant, unjustified spying in Europe, and one which is, moreover, pointless and expensive. We cannot institutionalise the failure to uphold the right to privacy. For these reasons I have voted ‘No’.

 
  
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  Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) I could not vote in favour of this report because I believe that the European Union simply cannot condone the collection of personal data on every citizen. Besides monitoring general samples of people, databases can be used to search for persons holding views that are politically or otherwise undesirable.

Every totalitarian regime in history has begun by amassing personal data on all of its citizens. I myself grew up under a forty-year-long totalitarian regime where the Communists in power collected my personal data and information about my phone calls.

Existing data transfer technology is still not secure enough and, therefore, potentially beneficial uses, such as the fight against terrorism, crime and money laundering, can easily be subverted. I could never explain to the public why I might vote for such a proposal.

 
  
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  Tomáš Zatloukal (PPE-DE).   (CS) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am well aware of the importance of the directive on data retention that has just been adopted. From the point of view of security, I believe that adopting it is an essential step in the fight against terrorism and other serious crimes. As one of the signatories to Amendment 41, however, I cannot consent to individual Member States offering different reimbursement to operators for any costs they have incurred as a result of retaining data, since this would violate the rules of the free market.

 
  
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  Maria Carlshamre (ALDE), in writing. (SV) I voted today in favour of the amendment by the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance to reject the proposed directive on data retention. I believe that the proposal is too far-reaching when it comes to personal privacy. It is also ineffective. It will not help combat terrorism, and it has also been driven through with frightening speed and in a way that does not bode well for the future.

I therefore also voted against the proposal in the final vote.

 
  
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  Richard Corbett (PSE), in writing. I welcome the proposed agreement between Parliament and Council. It achieves the right balance between allowing police and judicial authorities access to the data on electronic communications, and the protection of privacy. Its approval by both a majority in the elected Parliament and by a qualified majority of governments in the Council is proof of its acceptability to a wide range of opinions.

It reasonably allows police and judicial authorities to access, under certain conditions when investigating serious crimes, data on past electronic communications: that is, who has called who, not the content of the conversations.

I am nonetheless shocked at the tactic of some of those who oppose it. I have received letters, emails and representations from people who fear that governments will be able to listen to their telephone conversations and read their emails! Why do they think that? Because they have been told this by people who should know better, including some in this chamber who are willing to deliberately mislead the public in pursuit of their political goals.

 
  
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  Hélène Goudin, Nils Lundgren and Lars Wohlin (IND/DEM), in writing. (SV) In principle, the June List believes that a decision with such far-reaching implications for people should not be taken on the basis of a qualified majority. Instead, the procedure should be directly subject to the national parliaments, and decisions should be taken at intergovernmental level with the unanimous agreement of the Council and following cooperation with the police and the criminal justice system.

We also believe that the proposal goes much too far in view of its expected benefits. The Member States should make it easier to exchange information among themselves in order more efficiently to combat terrorism and organised crime. Such cooperation does not, however, require harmonisation at EU level for the purpose of retaining the huge quantity of information involved.

The proposal also gives rise to considerable misgivings concerning the way in which citizens’ freedoms and rights are observed in a situation in which people in general are under suspicion. The June List does not wish to help create a society in Europe in which people are under surveillance. If a Member State wishes to introduce the compulsory retention of data, it should only do so following a proper national debate with a decision taken in its national parliament. To sneak in such sweeping legislation through the back door is extremely incongruous from a democratic point of view.

 
  
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  Pedro Guerreiro (GUE/NGL), in writing. (PT) We regret the fact that the majority in Parliament rejected the proposal to reject this directive on the retention of electronic communications data, a proposal that had our backing.

It should be noted that a similar proposal was previously rejected by Parliament and did not receive the unanimous decision in the Council that it would have needed in order to be adopted. The proposal for a directive before us, presented by the Commission on the initiative of the United Kingdom, took just three months to be adopted by the majority of MEPs and by a qualified majority in the Council. The British Presidency has stated that it wants to see this directive enter into force at the earliest opportunity.

We find this yet another unacceptable proposal, as it forms part of the current onslaught of securitarianism, whereby the citizens’ rights, freedoms and guarantees have come under attack, on the pretext of the so-called ‘fight against terrorism’.

The intention is to ‘legalise’ something that is illegal. The directive seeks to broaden its current scope of gathering and storing data (telephone communication, email, Internet, and so forth) for up to two years, subject to extension, to include other aspects such as ‘preventing’ infringement. A flexibility clause has been brought in, which will give the green light to the almost indiscriminate gathering of electronic information.

Hence our vote against.

 
  
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  Jean Lambert (Verts/ALE), in writing. I voted against the proposal on Data Retention.

The European Parliament has been used to by-pass national parliaments which have rejected similar proposals. Our Parliament has forfeited certain rights by the process we have adopted on this Directive. I hope this behaviour will act as a warning and not a precedent when we handle future dossiers in this field under co-decision: the reward we were offered by Council for being a "politically mature" institution, capable of agreeing with Council.

We have today, set up the framework for a surveillance state. It is not clear to me that this will make us more secure and safe from crime.

This Directive no longer has crime prevention as a goal. We are therefore using an intelligence-led approach which relies on public confidence and support to be effective. Mass surveillance threatens that confidence. We have alternatives to such surveillance and should have adopted them.

 
  
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  Jörg Leichtfried (PSE), in writing. (DE) This directive does nothing to guarantee either proportionality or the accommodation of considerations both of security and the citizen’s fundamental freedoms, both of which are of great importance to me. The storage of data, in particular, is regarded as a vital tool for the authorities in investigating and combating terrorism, although the law already provides for access – subject to a court order – to those data stored by telephone service providers for billing purposes. Moreover, it has proved impossible to come to any agreement about, or determine what should be done about, the costs incurred in consequence of retention, so that it is far from certain what effects will result in future for industry and the consumer.

While I, too, take the view that telecommunications data are of immense importance in solving crimes and in combating international terrorism, the fact is that we already, in this area, possess considerable scope for action, without – in contrast to the proposed directive – interfering with the fundamental rights of every individual.

 
  
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  Cecilia Malmström (ALDE), in writing. (SV) Good laws are not enacted under pressure of time and with a faulty basis for decision-making. I am very critical of the way in which the process relating to the proposal for a decision on the retention of electronic communication services data has been handled. This is a difficult issue on which to adopt a position. Reflection is required, together with a solid factual basis in relation to the privacy aspect, the technical consequences and the actual costs for telecommunications operators and thus consumers.

This is an approach we owe Europeans. It is undoubtedly the case that electronic communication data can be of value in various criminal investigations. That does not, however, mean that we should give the green light to extensive data retention. It must be possible to use electronic communication data, but only in connection with very serious and well-defined crimes and following court decisions. A harmonisation of EU provisions is desirable, but it should be much more restrictive than is indicated by the current decision. The proposal for amending the directive, adopted in Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, was a step in the right direction. In the vote, this proposal was, however, rejected in favour of proposals that are too far-reaching. I therefore chose to vote against the proposal for a directive. I should have liked to have seen a decision involving shorter retention periods and better protection of privacy. E-mails would have been exempted, and the use of electronic communication data would only have been permitted in the case of certain serious and well-defined crimes.

 
  
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  Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL), in writing. (NL) The data storage directive that was pushed through under the British Presidency was not exactly eagerly anticipated in Europe. In a bid to fight terrorism and crime, citizens’ and companies’ telephone and Internet data will soon be stored for years. This is a downright breach of privacy and creates considerable legal uncertainty. The questions as to who has access to this data and who uses it have not been properly dealt with.

Telecom companies may well use the data for commercial purposes. Moreover, there are no guarantees that the compulsory data storage will help trace terrorists and criminals. While the directive applies throughout Europe, it is left to the Member States to define what is meant by ‘serious crime’, and it is unclear who will shoulder the cost of the gigantic databases required.

Not only is the directive superfluous, but it has also been piloted through the Council and Parliament far too quickly, with the rapporteur simply sidelined in the process, and the Council of Ministers throwing overboard all the guarantees that were built in by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

This is another example of how badly our democratic institutions are equipped to cope with this sort of demagogy, which governments use to play on the fears that are current among the public. Under the pretext of responding to terrorism, Fortress Europe is becoming more and more of a police state.

 
  
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  Gay Mitchell (PPE-DE), in writing. I do not know why this proposal was rushed, the 'extremely accelerated legislation procedure has meant that there was little time for discussion and translations were sometimes unavailable. There was also no time for a technology assessment or for a study on the impact on the internal market. Bearing in mind the measures and plans aimed at better regulation at European level, it is to be hoped that the procedure used for debating data retention will not become the rule', to quote directly from the report to Parliament.

-There is a framework decision on this issue still with the Council of Ministers.

-There is doubt that the correct legal basis was used for this proposal.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI), in writing. (DE) No longer must fear of terrorism be misused for the purpose of the progressive nullification of fundamental rights and freedoms in the interests of a totalitarian surveillance state. Ever since the attacks on 11 September, there has been evidence of a growing tendency to take action not only against those in the exposure business – in other words, journalists – but also against those elements that do not conform, or who incur the authorities’ displeasure. The latest example of how the freedoms of journalists are restricted and abrogated is what is known as the ‘Cicero affair’, as criminal acts are again and again used as pretexts for the introduction of new police powers, and, in Germany, even the access to toll payment data is under discussion.

Even in the best-case scenario, though, it is only the little fish that are caught, for criminal organisations and terrorist networks are usually well able to evade prosecution. Since terrorists’ attacks are often planned many years in advance, these simply cannot be prevented by the storage of data. Instead, the consequence of it is the permanent subsidising of network hardware, unjustified interference in people’s private lives and the hampering of people in possession of confidential data – doctors, journalists, lawyers and so on – in the practice of their professions.

Even if there are as yet no credible estimates of the effects and costs that will result from the planned directive, it is not acceptable under any circumstances that the public should be left defenceless in the face of such a massive curtailment of their fundamental rights. If we are not soon to end up with something like a Chinese-style Internet, they must at least be protected against any possible abuses by stringent and deterrent sanctions.

 
  
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  Claude Moraes (PSE), in writing. Following the vote on the Alvaro Report, I believe that Labour MEPs were successful in getting stronger safeguards concerning the security of communication data and in specifying penal and administrative sanctions for abusive use of retained data. In representing London, the city with one of the highest numbers of Internet service providers in the EU, safeguards are important.

 
  
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  Bill Newton Dunn (ALDE), in writing. I voted for the LIBE committee's position, but against the overall resolution.

Hurried law is usually bad law. This has been rushed through by the UK presidency of the Council. It is tragic that two large MEP groups have passed this in a single reading rather than have a thorough scrutiny.

It has many defects. The definition of "serious crimes" is uncertain, being left to 25 separate governments to each decide in their own way.

The question of costs is unclear. The demanders, the governments, should pay, not the individual citizen.

The inclusion of emails was badly thought through. The industry was never formally consulted. Hotmail and Yahoo emails are excluded. In the 2004 Madrid bombings, no emails were sent by terrorists ; instead one wrote a draft on Yahoo, and his accomplices logged on and read it.

So much "Spam" email is sent. Why do the governments want to preserve spam ?

The text gives too much latitude to the 25 governments to do what they wish. It allows them to decide the details themselves, and cannot be amended by national parliaments.

This is an unsatisfactory law. I am proud to have opposed it in its present form.

 
  
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  Luís Queiró (PPE-DE), in writing. (PT) Before we enter into any discussion on the report, I wish to say that we should welcome the fact that this issue has given rise to such a wide-ranging discussion. To my mind, it is a sign that Europe is prepared and alive to the potential risks to individual freedoms of an excessively securitarian approach.

In the report that we adopted, I did not detect any drift towards securitarianism, or any abandonment of the fundamental principles of ensuring and protecting the citizens’ rights, freedoms and guarantees. The report shows that we recognise the need to increase the resources available for combating crime, especially given the serious nature of certain types of crime, with terrorism of course at the top of that list, and given the use of new technology in these criminal activities.

There is a concern, which came to light in the debate and in the adopted document, which I feel should be highlighted. The increased powers provided for in this report will only work if their use is monitored more closely, and Parliament must not take its eye off the ball with regard to this directive. What we adopted today was for the purpose of protecting the citizens from criminals and must not be used for any other motive.

 
  
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  Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE), in writing. Nobody would deny that any measures which would help in the fight against terrorism should be investigated, but data retention as proposed will just not achieve the desired aim. Worse than that, I fear it will infringe liberty, and add unnecessary costs to business and consumers without actually making any of our citizens safer. This is a flawed proposal and the Parliament has done us a disservice today by adopting it.

 
  
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  Thomas Ulmer (PPE-DE), in writing. (DE) After carefully examining my conscience, I have voted in favour of the report,

- in the hope that the authorities will use the data only in accordance with our stipulations,

- in the knowledge that the concept of a ‘court order’ is not to be found in all Member States,

- in the knowledge that this House has largely removed the teeth from what was put before it by the Council and the Commission, and

- out of the conviction that civil rights will be adequately protected by Parliament.

After two years, I shall be demanding to see statistics on the authorities’ access to data.

 
  
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  Ioannis Varvitsiotis (PPE-DE), in writing. – (EL) I voted against the proposal for a directive on the retention of data because, despite the improvements to the initial proposal by the British Presidency following the efforts made by Members of Parliament, I still believe that these measures alone will prove to be ineffective in practice and will, furthermore, crack individual freedoms wide open, with painful consequences.

I am guided always by the memorable phrase by the US President Benjamin Franklin, who said in 1759: 'They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither'.

 
  
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  Anders Wijkman (PPE-DE), in writing. (SV) Good laws are not enacted under pressure of time and with a faulty basis for decision-making. I am very critical of the way in which the process relating to the proposal for a decision on the retention of electronic communication services data has been handled. This is a difficult issue on which to adopt a position. Reflection is required, together with a solid factual basis. This is an approach we politicians owe Europeans.

It is undoubtedly the case that information about telephone conversations can be of value in various criminal investigations. That does not, however, mean that we should give the green light to the extensive and systematic retention of both telephone conversations and e-mails. It must be possible to use electronic telecommunication data, but only in connection with very serious and well-defined crimes and following court decisions. A harmonisation of EU provisions is desirable, but it should be much more restrictive than is indicated by the current decision. Moreover, telecommunications operators will in all likelihood have to be compensated for their additional costs.

The proposal for amending the directive, adopted in Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, was a step in the right direction. In the vote, this proposal was, however, rejected in favour of a proposal identical to that negotiated by the governments. I therefore chose to vote against the proposal for a directive. I should have liked to have seen a decision involving shorter retention periods. E-mails would have been exempted, and the use of electronic communication data would only have been permitted in the case of certain serious and well-defined crimes.

 
  
  

(The sitting was suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
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