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Summary:

French officials have sent Internet companies into a frenzy with a new requirement that all web services must keep detailed files on all their users — including passwords, addresses and activity — for government purposes. Time to cancel that trip to Paris?

privacy-cameras

Europe’s approach to privacy is notoriously scattershot, with the media and users often reacting — or overreacting — to a constant stream of new rules, regulations and proposals. Sometimes there’s more heat than light, but at other points the consternation seems justified. Take the example of recent uproar in France, where last month the government introduced new data retention rules that have Internet users and businesses up in arms.

Under the new system, sites must keep a record of every visitor’s username, email address and password for a year. Plus they have to keep a file of every time the user interacted with the site, and what they did. Oh, and if they’ve got them, their postal addresses and phone numbers, too. All of it, for 12 months.

The files are then to be made available, on request, to all sort of enforcement agencies: the police, fraud investigators, tax officers, social security officials.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this has been seen as an invasion of privacy by individuals and an unfair burden by Internet companies — who aren’t keen on so much personal information being required by the government. So what are they doing? Challenging the law in court.

This week, the French Association of Internet Community Services, ASIC, said it is going to the country’s highest court to challenge the rule. The action is supported by a large number of companies — 26 in total — including American giants like Google and eBay, as well as homegrown French services like DailyMotion. They argue that it’s invasive, expensive and was brought in without any real consultation.

“Several elements are problematic,” said Benoit Tabaka, ASIC’s general secretary. “This is a shocking measure.”

This report in Le Figaro also points out their argument that it doesn’t seem to have been conducted in accordance with the broad data retention directives put in place by Europe’s wider administration.

Whatever the outcome, it’s another example of Europe’s inconsistent approach to privacy — for example demanding that people have the chance to erase their digital footprints (”the right to be forgotten”) while at the same time asking search engines to anonymize data after six months.

In general, the continent’s attitude seems to be toward a high degree of personal privacy, but the rapid rise of the Internet has left governments confused, concerned and powerless. Combined with legislation brought in to try and prevent terrorist attacks, this has created a confusing mishmash of approaches — though few as drastic as the French example.

  1. Why do you keep talking about Europe like this? Europe is not a country! Physically is a continent. Politically, there is no such thing. Economically, there is a subset of countries that sort of agree on some directives that may eventually be converted to national laws.
    There are no european citizens and there is no european language.
    So, France may do as they very well please, and it has nothing to do with Europe.

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    1. Chris Dickman Friday, April 8, 2011

      No, France can’t just do what it wants, and it’s not just because I live here that I can assure you of that. There is a little thing called the European Economic Community that yuo seem to have missed. As for this shameful grab for personal information on the part of the French, let’s hope this initiative is stopped dead in its tracks.

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  2. Chris Dickman Friday, April 8, 2011

    No, France can’t just do what it wants, and it’s not just because I live here that I can assure you of that. There is a little thing called the European Economic Community that you seem to have missed. As for this shameful grab for personal information on the part of the French, let’s hope this initiative is stopped dead in its tracks.

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  3. JeanRognetta Friday, April 8, 2011

    Very true, Chris. I find this “Europe from outside” viewpoint extremely refreshing. Why don’t we get more of it?
    Too many people seem to have missed not only on the Internet but on the whole of the last (momentous) 30 years. Move on, guys.

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  4. the right to be forgotten and anonymizing search engine data are consistent. they both aim to protect users privacy and limit data that can be kept by service providers. It really is just France who’s confused!

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  5. David Colbourn Monday, April 11, 2011

    This is great! Over due since 1984 but why stop there why not include medical records and banking records?

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