Pro and Contra data retention

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“Communications data retention is essential for fighting terrorism and organised crime.”

Wrong! Even without records of all telephone, mobile phone, email and internet usage, enough data is available to combat crime effectively:

  • For billing purposes, some connection data is being stored anyway, in Germany for up to six months.
  • Furthermore, courts can issue warrants that allow the law enforcement authorities to record the communication data of particular suspects.
  • The terrorists responsible for the Madrid attacs in 2004 could be found using call data that was already available. No data retention was needed.
  • Before the data retention directive was passed in 2006, there were only a few countries in the world that practised data retention. None of these countries used such an all-embracing logging scheme as planned in the EU directive. International authorities always did without the total logging of telecommunication.

In a survey, the Federal Criminal Police Office names 381 cases in which investigators did not have enough call data – compared to 6 million crimes that are commited each year this is a marginal rate of 0.01%. In these cases additional data was needed to solve crimes that had already been committed. No crimes would have been prevented with additional data. Furthermore, just two of these 381 crimes were connected to terrorism, even though the fight against terrorism is consistantly being put forward as the main reason why data retention is necessary. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, call data is mainly lacking in the investigation of child pornography as well as internet fraud. However, among all crimes these are the ones that already, without data retention, have the highest rate of being solved.

Data retention is ineffective against terrorism and organised crime:

  • Professional criminals remain undiscovered because they will be able to circumvent the planned measures (e.g. by using several unregistered prepaid cards) or because they will switch to other modes of communication (like letters, personal meetings)
  • Heinz Kiefer, the president of the european police association, warned in 2005: “It would remain easy for criminals to avoid detection by use of relatively simple technical means, such by using and frequently changing prepaid mobile phone cards bought abroad. The outcome would be an enormous effort that would have little more effect on terrorists than to annoy them a little.”
  • Klaus Jansen, chairman of the confederation of german detectives, complains already today: “Because it is well-known that eavesdropping on telephone calls is relatively easy for the police, suspects rarely speak openly on the phone.” If data retention comes, criminals will arrange with the new situation quickly.

If only one serious offense can be prevented, this fully justifies data retention.

Wrong! Free and open communication is more important to our society than the attempt to prevent each and every crime.

One should note that it will hardly ever be possible to prevent crimes using telecommunication data. At most, the data can be used to solve crimes that have already been committed. And even if the data could be used to prevent crimes in some exceptional cases, that would not justify the retention of the telecommunication data of the whole population. There must remain a reasonable balance between security measures and civil liberties. To achieve perfect crime prevention, we would have to give up all basic rights, even the prohibition of torture and the regard of human dignity. All the human rights and civil liberties stand in the way of crime prevention in some way or another. However, these basic rights are the lifeblood of a free society and a functioning democratic state and serve the purposes of all people. To us these values are more important than the attempt to prevent any possible crime.

Anyone who wants to prevent all crime should also be in favour of strict enforcements of speed limits on motorways, of smoking bans and the prohibition of alcohol advertisement. All of these measures could help in preventing many deaths. Anyone opposing a nanny state, which implements such measures for the protection of its citizens, cannot believably want to prevent each and every crime.

Setting wrong priorities

Constantly demanding more safety distracts from the failures and the wrong priorities of politics. While politicians try to punish each and every criminal by a complete surveillance and control of their people, they consciously accept that thousands of people die each year from the consequences of e.g. smoking, drinking and traffic accidents. To the favour of some single branches of trade (tobacco industry, breweries, auto industry), politicians remain inactive where they could and should easily prevent a lot of peoples illness and death. Also in fighting unemployment and poverty, which have been peoples main concern in the last years, the acting policies have constantly failed, as shown by statistics.
Compared to this problems, the effects of crime are a lot lower:

  • According to Eurostat less than 0.002% of all Europeans die from a crime each year, including terrorism.
  • According to the World Health Organisation 92% of the deaths in western europe are caused by illness, 2% by traffic accidents, 1% by falling 1.7% by suicide and only 0.2% by violence and crime. The big risks for health are others than crime: high blood pressure, smoking, drinking, cholesterin, overweight, maltnutrition and lack of exercise are the main risks.
  • If tobacco consumption would be reduced by just 2%, the advantages for population would be much more than by prevention of all criminal offenses, including terrorism

Whoever asks for additional measures, fighting criminalism, misses out on the real problems that mankind has to care about. The crime rate is more or less a constant, in history as well as today, without being a real threat to community in its entirety.


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