European Parliament Squabbles Over Deal to Can Spam

30 May 2002

Marco Cappato, a member of the Italian Radical Party and conducteur of a bill to ban unsolicited commercial email and placement of cookies without prior permission of recipients, is fighting to throw out a late amendment that would dilute the legislation currently in passage through the European Parliament.

The European Commission – the executive arm of the EU – has agreed over Cappato’s head to place the amendment before Parliament after robust lobbying by police and counterterrorism authorities from both sides of the Atlantic. The modification seeks to excise the bill’s “data-destruction regime” that could allegedly impede the prosecution of criminals and terrorists.

The proposed compromise would permit the retention of data such as phone, fax and email logs “for a limited period”, allowing European law-enforcement authorities to access electronic records of citizens’ phone calls and web-surfing travels - purportedly to safeguard EU and US security and aid the “prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offenses.”

Cappato perceives this to be a threat to the “personal privacy, political freedom, freedom of speech and public safety” of EU citizens, and on Tuesday he published an open letter urging Parliament’s president and its 626 members to reject the behind-the-scenes deal. He argues that “case-by-case inquiries ... are unanimously considered a more effective tool than general data retention”.

The amendment, however, has the support of Parliament’s two main political parties, the center-right European People’s Party and center-left coalition of European Socialists. Cappato will need all his powers of advocacy to persuade the assembly to his view that retention of any data on Europeans’ electronic communications should be “entirely exceptional [and] authorized by judicial or other competent authorities on a case-by-case basis.”

Per Haugaard, an EC spokesperson for information technology issues, sees it differently: “We'll get a good and delicate balance between the needs of law-enforcement agencies and the respect of human rights,” he opines.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff