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Should Internet service providers be required to retain more data transferred over their networks to aid law enforcement investigations?
That was the precise request made Tuesday by a senior Department of Justice official at a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing.
But according to a new study from German privacy rights group AK Vorrat, based on an analysis of crime data from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (known in Germany as the BKA), "data retention, while in force, did not make the prosecution of serious crime any more effective."
When it comes to securing, regulating, or policing the Internet, the report highlights that while some common-sense approaches -- such as data retention, or mandating that service providers block child pornography sites outright -- may look good on paper, in practice such restrictions may be ineffective or even produce unintended results.
In fact, after data retention laws went into effect at the beginning of 2008, the number of serious criminal acts increased from 1.36 million in 2007 to 1.42 million in 2009, while in the same timeframe the number of cases actually cleared -- meaning that charges were filed -- decreased from 77.6% to 76.3%.
The European Union's data retention directive requires EU telecommunications companies to store customer data for "the investigation, detection, and prosecution of serious crime, as defined by each Member State in its national law." In Germany, the directive was interpreted to apply "only for the investigation and prosecution of serious crime," according to the report. Serious crime, under German law, comprises such activities as murder, robbery, high treason, money laundering, computer fraud, sex crimes, and distributing child pornography.
Interestingly, a number of organizations in Germany -- as well as the German Minister of Justice -- are now calling for an easing of the country's data retention law. According to the report, they "propose the repeal of the EU requirements regarding data retention in favor of a system of expedited preservation and targeted collection of traffic data."