Moving towards mass surveillance? Belgian parliament approves data retention law

Moving towards mass surveillance? Belgian parliament approves data retention law
Women look at security cameras. Credit: Matthew Henry at Unsplash

A new data retention law was given the green light in the Belgian parliament's plenary session on Thursday evening. Data retention mandates telecommunications and internet providers to keep data on users, such as location and traffic, to aid law enforcement for security purposes.

The move is controversial as the EU Court of Justice has already ruled that the mass retention of phone and location data breaches the right to privacy, which is enshrined in the EU's Charter for Human Rights.

But law enforcement and Belgian Government officials argue that it is essential to solve and combat crime, which has led them to find loopholes in the EU Court's rulings.

A question of privacy

While the EU Court said that general data retention of a population is illegal, targeted data retention can be allowed in some circumstances and in cases of threats to national security.

The Belgian data retention law claims to be targeted, but in fact it allows for general data surveillance, as the bill defines crime at such a low scale that it effectively applies to the entire country.

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In addition, the Government wants to include the data of messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal in its proposal as well as telecommunications providers. The proposal could have implications on privacy-focused apps such as Signal and Telegram, as it would require them to retain data on users, which the apps currently don't. Privacy advocates warn that the law could ban such apps.

Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne of the Flemish liberals claimed that the protection of privacy is guaranteed in the government's plan, and the text was adopted with the support of the majority of parties.

The only parties to oppose the proposal were far-left party PVDA and far-right party N-VA, while far-right Vlaams Belang abstained.

Digital rights groups warn that the move in Belgium may be copied by governments across Europe.

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