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EU law protects porn ring - police

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union privacy laws have protected 500 members of a child porn ring from being tracked down, a police officer has said.

UK Detective Chief Superintendent Keith Akerman said EU data protection laws -- which require Internet service providers to erase traffic data -- prevent police from tracking down people who swap graphic pictures over the Internet.

The EU law is a real hindrance to investigations because it requires the destruction of evidence, Akerman said at a European Commission hearing on fighting cyber crime.

Information vital to finding people involved in the exchange of pictures -- including pornography and sexual assaults on babies -- has been lost forever as a result of this directive, Akerman said.

Under current EU law, member states may take measures allowing Internet service providers to keep data when necessary to fight crime. Belgium requires Internet providers to store traffic data for a minimum of 12 months.

Also attending the Commission hearing were representatives from Sweden, holder of the EU's rotating presidency, the European Parliament, interest groups and industry representatives such as AOL Europe and EuroISPA, a group representing European Internet service providers.

Both AOL and EuroISPA welcomed the Commission hearing, saying a joint approach between all concerned was needed in the fight against cyber crime.

EuroISPA representative Peter Van Roste said the European Parliament had recommended Internet data needed in the fight against child pornography be preserved for a period of three months.

John Ryan, a vice president of AOL, said the company recognised the need for law enforcement "to access and collect pertinent data."

Ryan said AOL would prefer service providers retain specific data following a police request, an approach known as preservation, rather than having a general requirement to keep all data for long periods.

"It is unbelievably burdensome from a financial perspective to retain data for long periods of time. But we do recognise that we can come up with periods of time that are both reasonable and protective," Ryan said.

A spokesman for the European Commission said consumer confidence must be ensured to allow e-commerce and Internet use to take off.

"Data privacy is crucial to ensure such confidence," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Internet Watch Foundation
UK Home Office

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