MEPs want Google to keep customer data for longer -

The EU is close to passing a law that would, rather surprisingly, force companies like Google to retain customer data for even longer.

Directive 2006/24/EC is intended to combat paedophilia by setting up an early warning system - based on the existing system for food safety, it says, though it's hard to see an obvious parallel.

The declaration needs to win the support of 369 MEPs by September if it's to be adopted - it currently has 324.

But several MEPs are concerned that their colleagues don't understand the implications of the declaration.

Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom says he believes that many of the signatories may have been misled.

"The Data Retention Directive is never mentioned in any of the marketing material for the declaration, and is only referred to by its number 2006/24/EC  in the declaration itself," he says.

"In reality... the substance of the declaration is to call on the Commission to extend the data retention directive to search engines, so that all searches done on, for example, Google will be monitored."

And Cecilia Wikström from the liberal group ALDE says she failed to understand what she was signing. In an open letter to all MEPs, she writes: "Both of the two emails sent to MEPs focused on the early warning system and neither mentioned the data retention directive. The website set up to support the written declaration also does not mention data retention."

Wikström says she is concerned that many of her colleagues may have made the same mistake. She has now withdrawn her signature, and is urging others to do the same.

The timing is just a touch ironic, given the pressure Google is currently under to cut the period it retains data. The latest scandal concerns Wifi data collected 'in error' by Street View cars. In an interview yesterday with the Financial Times, CEO Eric Schmidt said he was happy to turn all the data over to the authorities in France, Germany and Spain.

Alexander Hanff, director of Privacy International, says he has written to the bill's sponsor, Tiziano Motti, expressing concern. He told TechEye:

"As a privacy advocate, I feel it is important to strongly protest any such extensions especially when they are borne out of such an incoherent argument as that which has been illustrated by this case - that argument being based on protecting our children," he says in the letter.

 
"The solution you propose is neither proportionate or rational and further, will do absolutely nothing in real terms to combat the threat that paedophiles pose to our children."