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Antiterror data bill divides EU

NEWCASTLE, England -- European Union nations debated a bill yesterday that would force telecommunications companies to keep records of phone and e-mail traffic as part of the EU's antiterrorist campaign.

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said talks among EU justice and home affairs ministers stalled over cost and privacy concerns if law enforcement officials are given access to phone and Internet mailing records.

Communications specialists also said that retaining vast amounts of telephone and e-mail traffic could cost the industry $124 million in additional software and other costs.

The meeting, which ends today, was part of an effort by the 25-nation bloc to implement counterterrorism measures throughout Europe. The EU agenda began taking shape after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. The data-retention bill took on added urgency after the deadly July 7 suicide bombings in London, but little progress was made yesterday. British Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the meeting's chairman, said that while counterterrorism measures may affect personal freedom, governments need more intelligence-gathering powers if they are to track down terrorists.

The difficulties EU nations encounter mirror those in the United States, where broad data retention efforts have been derailed by privacy and cost concerns. No US law demands that traffic records be systematically kept on file, although police can ask that information in a particular case be retained during an investigation.

Britain wants such a law to compel phone networks and Internet operators to keep traffic data for at least a year.

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