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Study: Data retention has no impact on crime

Blanket, indiscriminate telecommunications data retention has no statistically significant impact on crime or crime clearance. This is the result of a study by the European Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS) which MEP Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) publishes in advance of tomorrow’s court judgments on data retention laws in France, Belgium and the UK.

The study summarizes that “it does not appear possible to establish any direct correlation between the fact of having or not data retention laws in place and crime statistics”. In Germany for example, no indiscriminate retention of communications data takes place since 2011. In the following years the crime clearance rate has slightly increased (from 55% in 2011 to 58% in 2018), the number of of recorded crime has decreased (from 6 million in 2011 to 5.6 million in 2018).

“Data retention means collecting information on everybody’s daily telephone contacts and movements,” comments Breyer. “It disrupts confidential communications in areas that legitimately require non-traceability (e.g. contacts with psychotherapists) and prevents journalists from communiating with anonymous whistleblowers. No other surveillance law interferes so profoundly with our right to privacy. And now we find that this blanket recording is unnecessary for detecting and prosecuting serious crime. Individual cases that are not statistically significant do not justify a total recording of the everyday communications and movements of the entire population. The plans by Home Affairs Commissioner Johansson and EU governments to bring back this surveillance monster must meet our fierce resistance!”

Background: Although retained communications data is occasionally useful for those purposes, there is no evidence that such benefits depend specifically on blanket data retention legislation. On the contrary, crime statistics reveal that there is not a single EU Member State where blanket and indiscriminate telecommunications data retention has had a statistically significant impact on crime or crime clearance. It appears that occasional benefits of retained data are compensated by counterproductive effects of the controversial policy which pushes criminals to increasingly use unregistered SIM cards or anonymization services. Such technologies and channels can render even a targeted interception of organised criminals impossible.

Specifically the study reveals:

• In Austria, as of 2015, there is no more blanket data retention law in effect. Since then, the crime clearance rate has massively increased (from 44% in 2015 to 52.5% in 2018), the number of reported crimes has decreased.
• In the Netherlands, there is no longer any indiscriminate data retention law in effect since 2016. Since then, the crime clearance rate has increased considerably (from 25.5% in 2016 to 28.5% in 2018).
• In Germany, the indiscriminate retention of communications data is no longer in force since 2011. Since then, the crime clearance rate has slightly increased (from 55% in 2011 to 58% in 2018), the number of of recorded crime has decreased (from 6 million in 2011 to 5.6 million in 2018).
• Italy has had blanket data retention in effect for years. The crime clearance rate has remained pretty much the same.
• In Spain, indiscriminate data storage is in effect. The the number of offences is roughly stable, the crime clearance rate has dropped considerably. Also, in the area of cybercrime, the supposed benefits which would be visible in the crime rate significantly increased, however, the clearance rate has declined substantially.
• In Sweden – the country of origin of the European Security Commissioner – indiscriminate data retention is practiced. The crime clearance rate has decreased (from 17% in 2009 to 14% in 2018).

A similar US data retention program has also been found to have produced new leads in only two cases.

The European Court of Justice will tomorrow deliver its judgment on whether national laws on blanket data retention in France, Great Britain and Belgium are compatible with fundamental rights. The complaints have beenfiled by privacy NGOs La Quadrature du Net, Privacy International and the Belgian Bar Association. In Germany another lawsuit is pending with Breyer among those who filed it.

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