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A European Union directive on data retention is set to be implemented in all member states from 2009, requiring all telecom providers to hold on to your email’s destination, the subject line and the sending time. European internet service providers are requested to retain not only email, but any metadata of communication originating from their network. But isn’t that a violation of the fundamental right to privacy, as defined by our 60-year old Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Isn’t it in direct defiance of APC’s Internet Rights Charter? Groups associated with the APC community, academics and radical technology collectives converge onto Budapest in September to seek a way out of Fortress Europe 2.0.

Stencil of Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: Stencil for German campaign against the EU Directive on data retention. Licence: CreativeCommons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0Stencil of Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: Stencil for German campaign against the EU Directive on data retention. Licence: CreativeCommons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0

Alternative ISPs face tough choice

Ethical ISPs providing trusted email and website hosting services to their users have distinguished themselves in the past by protecting users’ privacy from government spying and corporate data thiefs. The latest EU legislative innovation however, catapults them into thin air. They are faced with the tough choice of either becoming engulfed in the state surveillance system – by compiling files on their users and making them accessible to the authorities – or face criminal charges for not complying with the law.

If these are the only two options, they might as well close down their operations, say the most harsh critics of the new EU legislation package. This conclusion might be the preferred option of the officers hunting for troublemakers and dissenting voices in the European political scene. But things are not black and white, or if they are, then there is an urgent need to open up the spectrum.

Eastern Europeans in particular, need no explanation on how state surveillance and the repression of self-expression and political dissent infects everyday life. Activists recently stenciled Germany’s Minister of Home Affairs, Wolfgang Schäuble, on the streets of Berlin with the caption STASI 2.0. Schäuble had pushed for an ever increased surveillance in online communications. His efforts were crowned with the approval of the German data retention law that entered into force on January 1 2008. Stasi stands for Staatssicherheit, a reference to the East Germany’s secret police.

Squeezing out dissent

The transborder cooperation and coordination of EU member states’ electronic surveillance by authorities have already caused severe damage to concerned citizens fighting for freedom, justice and peace. From the denied access to Romania experienced by citizens on their way to anti-NATO protests in Bucharest, to the intimidation of eco-bloggers by police officers.

Government repression and surveillance sometimes targets service providers directly, as in the case of the Italian government eavesdropping on the server of the Autistici/Inventati collective, in an attempt to infiltrate the work of a prisoner solidarity group called Anarchist Black Cross.

The seizure of Indymedia’s nevralgic Ahimsa server in the UK is just another such example. The action which hit the ISP Rackspace, brought down twenty open publishing news websites used by citizen journalists and political organisers.

As the alterglobalisation movement loses momentum, states jeopardise hard-won liberties, backed up by official political rhetoric on fear and hatred. This, in turn, gains the support of an increasing segment of the EU’s population.

The alternative is alive and kicking

What can be termed as a “war for privacy, freedom of expression and association” is fought on multiple simultaneous fronts.

Lawyers and campaigners are challenging the EU directive internationally and in national supreme courts.

Software developers and server administrators are forging and disseminating the tools and tricks of resistance and data protection.

Most importantly, activists are forging campaigns to raise awareness amongst internet users and mobilise and share skills. The more people find out about what is happening with their personal information on the inetrnet, and learn how to cope with the situation, the more the legitimacy of the EU’s data retention plans will be put in question.

Special event: The slingshot turns towards Brussels

APC member Green Spider is collaborating with the Budapest-based Central European University’s Centre for Media and Communications Studies and the radical technology collective Nadir from Hamburg to organise the Data Retention on the Internet: Challenges for small, alternative and citizen-based Internet Service Providers event from September 18-22. Members from many European and non-European countries will attend to learn, share and resist collectively.

Image: Stencil of German Home Affairs Minister Wolfgang Schäuble with the acronym of the former East German secret police. Source: