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One year of data retention: the fears have come true

Government agencies have been able to access communication data after the fact since April 1, 2012. For every telephone call, the provider saves who called whom when and from where, and by whom, when and from where someone is called. The same applies to text messages and e-mail. The content of the communication is not stored, but the location data for a mobile phone is already enough to track users. This data storage without concrete suspicion was required by an EU directive passed in 2006 after the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid. In Austria, the directive was adopted by the National Council about two years ago with the votes of the SPÖ and ÖVP after the EU threatened to impose fines if it was not adopted.

"Things went exactly as we said they would"
For critics of data retention, data protection advocates and civil rights advocates, data retention is a massive violation of the basic right to privacy. Sensitive personal information is saved about every Austrian without suspicion of any wrongdoing. There were funeral processions in five state capitals about a year ago to carry privacy "to its final resting place." A year after the implementation of the directive in Austria, Andreas Krisch from the Austrian Working Group on Data Retention (AK Vorrat), which has opposed data retention for three years, summed things up as follows: "Things went exactly as we said they would over the past year. As soon as data is saved, more and more people want to use it."

Such desires were expressed during the talks about an amendment of Austrian copyright law in the Ministry of Justice. In a statement released in 2010, at which time the legal amendments for the implementation of the EU data retention directive went under review, the position of the Ministry of Justice was that the stored data should be made available to rights holders "for at least three months."

Access for military intelligence services
The expansion of data retention for military intelligence services

. Under current plans, the powers of Austria`s intelligence services are to be expanded considerably. The Ministry of Defense, which is still being directed by Norbert Darabos,
the draft bill, however, after public protects were held against the bill that would allow military intelligence agencies to access Internet data. But
was happy about this. Army spokesman Stefan Prähauser explained, for example, that the intelligence services should be able to access the retained data for the fulfillment of their duties. "The negative effects are very clear. And this is exactly what we said would happen. As far as the amendment of the law for military intelligence services, we have seen no official document to date stating that Darabos` decision will remain in force after the end of his term," Krisch said.


Requests up to November 2012
At the end of November 2012, there had been

according to the judicial spokesperson of the Ministry of Justice, Gottfried Strasser. Three of the cases covered homicide investigations, 58 aggravated theft, 14 aggravated robbery and 20 stalking. Additional inquiries pertained to serious fraud (16), narcotics violations (20) and rape (10). Further information was provided for 19 cases, seven of which were stalking investigations, the Ministry of Justice said. The Ministry of the Interior reported nine retained data queries by executive authorities regarding security threats from April to September. According to Manfred Burgstaller, judicial spokesperson in the agency, four inquiries pertained to the assignment of IP addresses and five the location of a mobile phone. After a year, Krisch does not see "that data retention has had any benefits at all."

Constitutional court has doubts
The Austrian Constitutional Court also has

that the EU directive for data retention may be in violation of the EU`s Charter of Fundamental Rights, and submitted questions on its interpretation to the European Court of Justice in December 2012. This was also a success for the 11,139 citizens who submitted a constitutional complaint against data retention in June 2012 at the initiative of AK Vorrat and the Green`s judicial spokesperson Albert Steinhauser. According to Krisch, AK Vorrat will submit its opinion for the preliminary ruling process to the Court of Justice this week. "The European Court of Justice has given us the opportunity to submit an opinion. This is a formal opportunity where we are given another chance to say something. The process is under way, but will take some time."

AK Vorrat`s petition to stop data retention, which has been signed by over 106,000 people, was submitted to the

in January 2013. But the debate in the National Council focused on putting the blame on other parties as being responsible for implementing data retention in Austria for whatever reasons, instead of actually dealing with the initiative`s concerns, AK Vorrat said. The initiators were disappointed by the outcome, and called it a "political bankruptcy."

April Fool`s joke
On April 1, 2013, one year after the law went into force in Austria, AK Vorrat announced "European Court of Justice overturns data retention!" Unfortunately, and as was clear from the report, it was an April Fool`s joke. "This report was intended to express how important the fight against data retention is, and that it is not impossible for us to win this fight," said Krisch, who actually received press inquiries about the report. "The report reflects our expectations. We hope for a sensible decision by the European Court of Justice."