European Union justice and home affairs ministers agreed on Friday that telecommunications companies and ISPs (Internet service providers) should keep call data for up to two years to enable law enforcement officers to track suspected terrorists.
Under the deal struck at a meeting of ministers in Brussels, telecommunications companies and ISPs would have to collect and store call data for a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years.
However, countries that already have rules requiring operators to store data for longer would be able to continue to require companies to follow those time limits. Ireland currently requires companies to keep data for up to three years while in Italy the requirement is four years.
Ministers also agreed that it would be optional whether national governments should reimburse operators for the costs of collecting and storing the data.
Despite the fact that the agreement was approved by a majority of the E.U.’s 25 member states, the rules can still be overhauled by members of the European Parliament, who are directly elected. The Parliament takes a different line on this issue than the E.U. national governments.
Members of the Parliament’s civil liberties committee voted on Nov. 24 to limit the time period for storing data to 12 months while making it compulsory for national governments to reimburse companies for the cost of collecting and storing data.
A spokesman for the European ISP association EurISPA said that there is still a “great deal of uncertainty concerning important details of what ministers had agreed.” Richard Nash, secretary-general of EurISPA, highlighted questions about the obligations on companies.
The next key date on the issue is a vote in the European Parliament scheduled for Dec. 15-16.
The U.K., whose presidency of the 25 member E.U. entitles it to set the agenda, is keen for an agreement on the issue before its term of office expires at the end of December.
The U.K. argues that these measures are essential to fight terrorism as access to mobile phone records played a crucial part in identifying perpetrators of the Madrid and London transportation bombings.