Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Democracy - EU-Style, ie NOT

Commission sets out rules for citizens' initiative
Commission sets out rules for citizens' initiative
By Constant Brand
31.03.2010 / 16:46 CET

One million signatures needed from nine countries

The European Commission today (31 March) set out the rules for using a “citizens' initiative” which allows one million people to ask the Commission to propose new laws.

Using the initiative, which was introduced by the Lisbon treaty, will require at least one million signatures from at least nine of the 27 member states.

Organisers will also to make sure they get a minimum number of names from each country, based on the so-called digressive proportionality system, which is used to divide up seats between member states in the European Parliament.

Maroš Šefčovič, the EU commissioner handling the “European Citizens' Initiative”, said the measure will mark “a real step forward in the democratic life” of Europeans.

Šefčovič presented a draft guidebook on how the initiative will work on Wednesday. “It should not be too difficult, not too technical or complicated for citizens”, he said.“It is a concrete example of bringing Europe closer to its citizens and it should foster a lively debate about what we are doing in Brussels”.

The plan, which still needs the backing of the European Parliament and member states, will give citizens across the 27-nation bloc their first direct say in setting the EU's legislative agenda, a procedure which could lead to gridlock in EU decision- making.

But it will not go as far as other similar direct democracy instruments like those in Switzerland or California, where citizens can bypass parliaments to pass new rules and regulations via ballot initiatives or referenda.

Šefčovič acknowledged the initiative would also allow interest groups and political parties to launch signature drives, raising doubts about how effective the initiative would be in bringing citizens closer to the EU.

“We are trying to be as open as possible, we would not like to limit who would be the organisers ... so political parties clearly fall within the remit,” he said.

The initiative opens the door for people to voice their position on an array of contentious issues, including the use of genetically modified crops to Turkey's entry talks, all of which fall under the remit of the Commission, which has powers to draft and amend EU rules and regulations.

Under the proposed rules, those wanting to change EU legislation will have to organise and collect at least one million signatures from at least nine of the 27 member states.

Added to those requirements is another complex one that will force organisers to make sure they meet a minimum number of names from each country, based on the so-called digressive proportionality system, which is used to divvy up seats between member states in the European Parliament.

At least 72,000 signatures will be needed from Germany for example, 54,750 from the UK and only 4,500 each from tiny Malta and Luxembourg.

The initiative will have to be formally filed via a special Commission website, after which organisers will have one year to collect the signatures.

Šefčovič said he had introduced several safeguards to prevent extremists or other “silly” initiatives from hijacking the process. An initial check will be done once an initiative is filed on the website to see whether the proposed signature drive abides by European rights and values.

A second check is done once organisers reach 300,000 signatures to see whether it falls under its legislative powers and is viable.

The names collected either online or on paper will have to be verified by national authorities and the organisers of the initiative will have to disclose who finances their campaign.

A group representing thousands of EU-based non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, the European Trade Union Confederation and the European Women's Lobby welcomed the proposal calling it “an important new step to increase public participation in EU decision-making.”

Seventeen member states already have similar initiatives at national level.
So there you have it: instead of just voting directly for the people who make your laws, you now have the ability to go through a complicated and ridiculous procedure, which will be vetted by unelected officials - all on the off-chance that the (unelected) commissioners think it's worth bothering about.

Welcome to democracy, EU-style.

How about starting an initiative to get the UK expelled from the EU? I'm sure we could make ourselves so disliked that we could easily get 1,000,000+ signatures.

More Communitarian Shit From The Political elite

BBC News - David Cameron promises to create 'neighbourhood army'
David Cameron has said that a Conservative government would train a 5,000-strong "neighbourhood army" to set up community groups.

The Tory leader said in a speech this offered a "positive alternative to Labour's big government" approach.

"Our aim is for every adult citizen to be an active member of an active neighbourhood group," he said.

Meanwhile, Labour is promising communities more powers to take over the running of local services.
More proof that there's really little difference between the major parties, all of whom are hung up on this communitarian 'progressive' approach.

We don't need - or want - citizen groups. What we want is local councils to do the jobs they're always done and to do them well - so we don't bloody have to.

Why don't you just fuck off and LEAVE US ALONE.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Newsmen Wearing Lip Gloss

MARTIN BELL: Beware of newsmen wearing lip gloss | Mail Online

Martin Bell on how tv reporters have become celebrities and fakes - and sacrificed their trade in the process. Worth quoting in full.
One day at the height of the banking crisis I was so concerned about my few diminishing investments that I watched the BBC News Channel doing a live report from the City. It was eight o'clock in the morning and broad daylight. The reporter, venturing out of the cocoon of the TV studio, was standing in the street outside the Bank of England - and he was wearing lip gloss. In my book, real men don't wear lip gloss, not even inside TV studios, never mind outside them. There is something deeply untrustworthy about it. It gives a journalist the look of a snake-oil salesman.

But that's the way the TV news world has been going since, about 15 years ago, it started abandoning the standards and values that it inherited. It wasn't just a matter of accuracy - although I was shocked to hear an executive on one of the rolling news channels defending the broadcasting of a falsehood in the heat of the moment as 'part of the unfolding story'. It was a matter of substance. I recently wrote an introduction to a new edition of William Howard Russell's Despatches From The Crimea. I was impressed by their authenticity. He was there, and what he wrote about was what he saw. It wasn't easy for him. He had his tent cut down. He was threatened with censorship. But he persisted. And, reading his reports, I concluded that readers of the Times in 1854 were better informed about the Crimean war than readers of any newspaper today, or viewers of any TV network, about the war in Afghanistan.

Television is especially at fault. What it lacks in substance it tries to make up for in style. In TV, as in politics, presentation is now paramount. Spin is king of the hill. The BBC led the retreat from the real world into the froth and fluff that masquerades as it. The Corporation was worried about a decline in audiences for all of its mainstream news programmes. It commissioned a mass of audience research and concluded that what was needed was less reporting and more story-telling. Its journalists were re-branded as performers.

All the world was a stage and they were the strolling troupe of players who would be the actors on it. It was not enough to stand there and explain what was going on. They were expected to walk and talk and wave their arms at the same time. The BBC even hired a style coach from Iowa to teach them how to do it. A veteran correspondent was told to acquire a new set of hand signals. It was known - heaven help us - as 'being in the moment'. And all the networks, not just the BBC, went down this road with results that you can see every day on every programme - not so much the TV news as Strictly Come Reporting.

I was once told by one of the practitioners of these dark arts that if I learned them I too could become a wealthy and high-profile anchorman. Fame and fortune, a six- or even seven-figure salary, would be within my reach. 'All you need, Marty,' he said (he was from NBC News of America), 'is sincerity - and if you can fake that you've got it made!'

So the TV news business, which used to be a sober-sided affair, became entwined with the culture of celebrity. There was a pecking order; and to become a TV news celebrity you needed a title. You started as a reporter. You then became a correspondent (a correspondent is a reporter who has lunch). Then an editor or special correspondent. And then maybe a programme presenter. And this was the point of it. You wouldn't just be where the news was. You would actually be the news. And the stories that you told would be at least in part about yourself. John Simpson is a master of this art.

Even now the BBC News Channel runs a regular promotional video showing some of its leading players at the heart of world events. The message is that wherever news breaks the BBC is there, the first and the best. One of the images is that of Huw Edwards, the estimable presenter of the Ten O'Clock News, wearing a flak jacket and talking to soldiers within the relative safety of the Basra Air Station. That was more than two years ago, but it is re-run every day as if it were yesterday. The real story of the defeat and debacle in southern Iraq, and the breaking of the spirit of some very fine soldiers, was never told, by Huw or anyone else.

If you ask why not, I think I know. For all kinds of reasons, mostly understandable, the journalists have retreated from the real world into the comfort of green zones and well-protected hotels. They are seldom on the scene any more. They are doing their stuff on rooftops or in front on video walls. Some of them are very good journalists, but they can no longer report from the thick of things because it is just too dangerous to do so. A warning shot across everyone's bows was the fate of the BBC's Frank Gardner, a brave and brilliant correspondent, who was singled out and gunned down in Saudi Arabia in 2004 - and that was not even, technically speaking, a war zone. His cameraman was killed. Gardner is still reporting, but from a wheelchair.

The terms of trade were changed by 9/11. After that the danger was not of being caught in the crossfire but of being kidnapped, ransomed and executed.

One of the last to try it the old way was Stephen Farrell of the New York Times, who was captured last September by the Taliban when he travelled, without military protection, to the scene of a Nato bombing in Kunduz, Afghanistan. He escaped, but his interpreter and a British soldier were killed in the rescue operation. It is hard to think of anything more damaging to military/media relations than the death of a soldier trying to save the life of a journalist.

So reporters are either 'embedded' - attached to and travelling with a military unit - or they never leave Camp Bastion. I know about embedding. I was a pioneer of it, and keep on my files an identity card, serial number 001, issued by the MoD as Authority For A War Correspondent Accompanying A British Operational Force. This was for the first Gulf War in 1991. I traded freedom for access and went to war alongside the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars. It was a privilege to be there, although in the end it wasn't that much of a war.

Afghanistan, by contrast, is one hell of a war - and the only access to it is through embedding. Some of the coverage has been vivid and in the best traditions of the business. Bill Neely for ITV News, Vaughan Smith for Channel 4 News and Ross Kemp for Sky deserve all kinds of medals for terrific coverage. But it is fragmentary. What is missing, when the shooting starts and the Nato rockets and bombs go in, is the sight of any Afghans and the news of what has happened to them. In a war being fought to win their allegiance, it is a black hole in the coverage.

Embedding can also benefit the journalists, if they choose to learn the lessons in front of their eyes. Soldiers do teamwork, because their lives and operations depend on it. But TV people do not do teamwork. News is like politics: it tends to attract driven and frantically ambitious characters who believe that they can only succeed at each other's expense. (The fiercest competition, as with political parties, is not between organisations but within them.)

This leads to some very strange practices - and malpractices. Those of us who have been in TV a long time know that the work of some of its legends, which we whisper sometimes among ourselves, includes reports that were outright frauds. They looked and sounded like news, and one of them won a prestigious award, but they were from start to finish the most disgraceful and appalling fabrications. These included staging certain scenes, passing off reconstructions as the real thing, topping up the soundtrack with extra gunfire, peppering a script with falsehoods and using counterfeit cutaways to suggest that the reporter was at the front line when in fact he was nowhere near it. Most of these characters have retired - but one of them at least is still in action and doing rather well. He works for one of the major broadcasters. I hope that he has changed his ways. They certainly needed changing.

It may be, of course, that the frauds are rare and most reporters are decent and honourable people. We used to think the same of our MPs.

I believe, from where I've been and what I've seen, that we live in the most dangerous times since 1945. Something wicked this way comes - if not from Helmand and the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, then from Jihadist training camps in Yemen or Somalia. But the conflicts there go virtually unreported.

And TV is increasingly retreating into an easy, soft and anaesthetic news agenda. Jordan is not a country but a celebrity. Gordon Brown weeps on prime-time. Politicians are learning the arts of reality television. Their safest haven is the GMTV sofa. Everything becomes a journey to tug at the heartstrings. Even Tony Blair's book is to be called The Journey.

My former profession has also been on a journey. It has been seduced by celebrity. It has loitered too long in la-la land. It has taken wrong turns and worshipped false gods. But when events in the real world come to strike us - the world that it has so assiduously ignored - it will have to return to its roots in serious journalism. That will wipe the smiles from the presenters' faces. And maybe the lip gloss too.

Europe Saves Our Time

All three main UK political parties are apparently in agreement about when to change the clocks and by how much. You can read details here.

I've managed to annoy Mrs ChartersandCo by suggesting that the hidden hand of the EU may be at work here.

Which, of course, it is. The proposed changes bring us into line with Central European Time. Nothing wrong with it in this case, but I just wish the British politico-media would be a bit more honest about things.

Mrs ChartersandCo rounded on me by saying that groups such as RoSPA were in favour of it, so it had nothing to do with the EU.

Except of course, RoSPA gets stacks of funding from the government and its agencies, so they're obviously going to be called in defence. Go check its accounts. Kerching. Fake charity.

I'm not telling the Mrs about that one, though. I want a quiet life. I think I'll keep schtumm from now on.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Labour Aspirational Hit The Rich Claptrappery

Labour want to hit the rich for being, well, rich.

They also want to encourage people to have aspirations, to become successful and, well, rich, I suppose.

No contradiction there, then.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

How Gordon May Stop Squaddies Voting Against Him

British Soldiers Unable To Vote In General Election - “No Helicopters, No Equipment, No Vote”, says Dan Byles | Dan Byles

Blogged about the possibility of this happening a week or so back.

We all know what's going on here, don't we, Gordon?

Wonks Wonking In Wonkdom

Do unto others: on the appropriation of citizen empowerment - Neighbourhoods

Kevin Harris takes a pop at those bossy, interfering wonks and politicos who decide what 'we' need for 'our communities', in this case Matthew Taylor and his current vehicle, the RSA:
I posted some musings last month about the way empowerment has become an industry: its recognition as an issue in policy is welcome but its neutralising assimilation distasteful.

Meanwhile I've been watching as that well-known authority on local activism, the RSA, plans to follow up on its idea for a 'new community development qualification' by toying with notions of 'citizen power' as if it were a conceptual plaything. I was invited to the launch of this project recently, but I still haven't understood why a local project required a London 'launch' with Triffickly Important People speaking.

The invitation noted:

'With political disengagement on the rise and public services feeling the squeeze, it has never been more important to realise the potential of people to affect change at a local level by shaping the identity and direction of the places and public services they use.'

OK, I'm with you so far, how you gonna do that? 'The potential of people': any particular people?

'This pioneering project led by the RSA in partnership with Peterborough City Council and Arts Council England East, will experiment with different ‘models of social change’ across a range of spheres including civic behaviour, education, local enterprise, rehabilitation and treatment services.'

Ah I see, not led by local people then. But experimenting with their lives and their place, how thoughtful. Well you wouldn't want to risk increasing political disengagement, would you?

The text went on to explain the RSA's belief that 'the goals of individual fulfilment and social progress require an ambitious model of citizenship'... It has to be a model, because the wealthy elite like to play with things and then go off and do something else, leaving ordinary people to, er, well tidy up and make do afterwards I suppose.

David Wilcox has been trying to inject some sense of responsibility and offered a couple of comments here, with a gentle irony that seems either too subtle, or too late, or both:

'I know that there's a strong theoretical commitment to citizen engagement, empowerment etc. But isn't there a slight danger that without some evidence of citzens at the heart of the project this will look like social architecture designed in John Adam Street?'

The rhetoric ('We do want to involve people in all aspects of the project') isn't hard to find but sounds as hollow as always. When I started to wonder about the '' url, it struck me that not only is this an audacious attempt by wonkdom to appropriate, govern and direct citizen empowerment from the top-down; it also implies it can be turned into a project of social entrepreneurship.

It may seem trivial to be pricking the RSA's pomposity (although they seem to work hard at it). But I'm more concerned with a growing suspicion that one of the legacies of new Labour will be the erosion of the validity of radicalism by treating it as intellectually fashionable and appropriating its language. If you do unto others and call it empowerment, what will residents call real empowerment when the time comes to get you off their territory?
Why can't these people just fuck off and leave us alone?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

One Database You CAN Opt Out Of - NHS Summary Care

Kept quiet by the state, of course, but here's one database you can request an opt-out from: the Summary Care Record. There's a link to a printable form at the bottom of this page.

Monday, 15 March 2010

W Anchor Mann

Seconds Out, Round One « MANNISMS >>

Labour MP John Mann threatens to sue blogger.

Uses House of Commons notepaper. Is that legal?

Anyway, I don't care whether Mr Mann is in the right or not in this matter. He's a Labour MP and is therefore a cunt. Sorry, wanker.

Will The BBC Report This?

EU to recommend more cuts for Britain | Reuters

According this report the European Commission's view coincides with that of the Conservative Party, ie that more cuts need to be made sooner rather than later. A view not shared by Labour and the Lib Dems, both of whom are more heartily committed to the EU project than the Tories. Nice irony.

Bet it doesn't appear on BBC, though.
By Marcin Grajewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission will tell Britain to do more to cut its ballooning budget deficit in the medium term, saying the country's fiscal programme lacks ambition, a draft from the EU executive showed on Monday.

The draft, obtained by Reuters two days before publication, said the programme failed to guarantee Britain would meet a European Union deadline of 2014-15 for cutting the deficit to below the bloc's cap of 3 percent of economic output.

"The overall conclusion is that the fiscal strategy in the convergence programme is not sufficiently ambitious and needs to be significantly reinforced," said the draft, expected to be approved by the Commission on Wednesday.

"A credible timeframe for restoring public finances to a sustainable position requires additional fiscal tightening measures beyond those currently planned," it added.

Britain's plan envisages cutting the gap to 4.7 percent of gross domestic product in the fiscal year 2014-15 from 12.1 percent planned for 2010-2011. That means it will fail to meet the deadline given by EU finance ministers late last year.

But even this target may be missed because British economic growth could turn out lower than the government expects, the draft said.

"The achievement of the consolidation forecast by the UK authorities, is further clouded by the likelihood that the macroeconomic context could be less favourable than envisaged by the authorities, as well as the uncertainties relating to the banking sector loans and investments insured by the government."

The programme forecasts economic growth at 2.0 percent in 2010-11 and then 3.3 percent each year until 2014-15.
Brussels has little leverage to force Britain to follow its recommendation made under the 27-country EU's budget discipline rules. Britain is not a member of the 16-nation euro zone so cannot be fined for breaching the deficit limit.

Still, the assessment may prove embarrassing for Prime Minister Gordon Brown ahead of this year's general election.

The Commission will also publish on Wednesday its assessment of the fiscal programmes of Austria, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Slovakia.

They will then be studied by EU finance ministers. The ministers in theory can change the Commission's recommendation, but this happens rarely.

Budget deficits are swelling across the EU as the economic crisis undermined government revenues and fiscal stimulus programmes boosted spending.

The draft said Britain's fiscal plans for 2010-2011 appeared adequate but those for subsequent years seemed lax.

Britain should publish this year "the detailed departmental spending limits underlying the overall expenditure projections" for the period after 2010-11, it added.

(Editing by Dale Hudson)

What Odds On Terrorist 'Outrage' or Incident Before Election?

Not that I'm cynical or believe that Labour will stoop to just about anything to stay in power, but what are the odds on a major terrorist 'incident' happening between Easter and the general Election? The sort that shows Brown playing at being the Great Leader and Protector of his country? And then being re-elected by a grateful electorate.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Progressive Mulgan UK Australia Fuck-up Connection

Doing a bit of poking around on the interwebs to chase up info on the imminent publication of Making Good Society by The Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society (yes, that is correct), ie the Carnegie Trust, and its Chair(man), the leftishly-ubiquitous Geoff Mulgan, I discovered that among Mulgan's many jobs is 'part-time adviser to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Australia'.

Not content with contributing to the continuing fuck-up of the UK he is now helping to do the same to Australia. The Aussie political class seem to have generated their own bunch of fucknuggets who are trying the same tricks as here, eg censoring the internet, etc.

I hope the Aussies show more gumption and guts than the British public and tell the government and its advisory lickspittles where they can shove their ideas.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Gordon Knows They Won't Be Voting For Him, So...

Gordon Brown asked for assurances that soldiers overseas can vote in the General Election - Telegraph
During Prime Minister's Questions, Richard Benyon, a Tory MP and former soldier, said postal trials by the Army Families Federation had revealed limitations in the current arrangements.

He warned that a ''perverse situation'' could arise where the armed forces were fighting for people in foreign countries to have the vote but could not cast a ballot themselves.

''It is unlikely that the vast majority of our armed forces serving overseas will be able to vote in the coming election,'' Mr Benyon said.

''Will you intervene to ensure that we don't have the perverse situation that we have people fighting abroad for others to have the right to vote but we are denying that right (to them).''

Mr Brown said Justice Secretary Jack Straw was making the ''best arrangements possible'' to ensure service personnel overseas would be able to cast their vote.

And he said: ''It is absolutely right that everyone should have the chance to cast their vote in every election.''
Members of the armed forces are able to register as a ''service voter'', linking them to a fixed address in the UK for three years to allow flexibility when posted overseas.

Those abroad on election day can apply to vote by post or proxy, though the Electoral Commission recommends service personnel to appoint a proxy.

The body's website says: ''If you're based abroad, you need to be aware that, due to election timetables, you may not receive your ballot paper until shortly before election day.

''Depending on where you're based, there may not be enough time for you to return your ballot before voting closes (10pm on election day), so voting by post may not be the best way for you to vote.

''In these circumstances we would encourage you to appoint a proxy in the UK to vote on your behalf.''
Interesting. Given that this administration is one of the most corrupt and contemptible ever, it would come as no surprise to find that service personnel in Afghanistan were somehow 'unable' to cast their votes in time. How many of them will be voting for Gordon, do you think?

Conservatives Will Inherit EU Merde-Sturm

Conservatives may by forced to call early EU referendum - Telegraph

I wonder if Dave and his mates have decided they'd rather not be running this country after the next general election.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has raised the prospect of new EU treaty only months after the Lisbon Treaty took force.

Mrs Merkel said that a new EU accord would be required to create a new European Monetary Fund able to bail out crisis-hit members of the euro like Greece. “We would need a treaty change,” she said.

Talk of a new EMF has led to warnings that power of tax and spending could be centralised in European institutions.

When the Lisbon accord was proposed, European leaders said that it would be the last attempt to change the EU’s basic rules for many years.

But some European politicians have taken the recent financial crisis as an opportunity to suggest more changes. The European Commission has said the crisis is a chance to improve Europe’s “economic governance”.

Britain is not a euro member, but it is a signatory to the Maastricht treaty that created the single European currency. Maastricht bans one euro member giving direct financial aid to another.

EU rules mean that any change in the union’s fundamental rules must be approved by all EU members in a new treaty.

Any new treaty that creates a “gouvernement économique” based in Brussels and Frankfurt would face stiff opposition from Eurosceptics across the British political spectrum.

Both Labour and the Conservatives signalled they would oppose any new EU treaty, and the issue has the potential to be a political embarrassment to both.

When David Cameron dropped his commitment to hold a referendum on Lisbon last year, he reassured voters and Eurosceptic Tories that a Conservative government would put any future treaty to a referendum.

Conservative officials confirmed that the referendum “lock” would be applied to any new EMF treaty.

Mark Francois, the Conservative shadow Europe minister, said: “A European Monetary Fund must create no financial or legal obligations on Britain.”

However, the Conservatives are wary of letting Europe become a major issue at the general election, fearing that Labour could use the subject to portray them as an unreformed right-wing party.

Labour promised a referendum on the European Constitution, the forerunner of Lisbon, but then dropped the commitment.

Mr Brown told the Commons in 2007 that he would not accept any change in Europe’s rules for another decade.

Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday that the UK would oppose any new treaty brought forward to set up an EMF.

Downing Street said: “The Government opposes further institutional change in the relationship between the EU and member states for this parliament and the next.”

Asked about Mrs Merkel’s remarks, No 10 said: “We don’t actually expect further institutional change.”

Mats Persson, director of Open Europe, a think-tank, said that any new treaty could be a move to centralise power over tax and spending policies.

He said. “This will be seen, rightly, as a step towards fiscal federalism. That would be a step in the wrong direction for the UK.”

Even though Britain is outside the euro, Mr Persson said it was “not inconceivable

that the UK could take part in some way” in a new European bail-out fund.

As an example, he said, the UK pays to help fund the running costs of the European Central Bank, despite not being a member of the European single currency.

Nigel Farage, a UK Independence Party MEP, said: “British participation in a European IMF will prove to be a bottomless pit down which taxpayers’ money can be poured in an attempt to save a lost cause.”

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Germans Are Getting Restless

German court overturns law on phone, e-mail data - Yahoo! News
BERLIN – Germany's highest court on Tuesday overturned a law that let anti-terror authorities retain data on telephone calls and e-mails, saying it posed a "grave intrusion" to personal privacy rights and must be revised.

The court ruling was the latest to sharply criticize a major initiative by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government and one of the strongest steps yet defending citizen rights from post-Sept. 11 terror-fighting measures.

The ruling comes amid a European-wide attempt to set limits on the digital sphere, that includes disputes with Google Inc. over photographing citizens for its Street View maps.

The Karlsruhe-based Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the law violated Germans' constitutional right to private correspondence and failed to balance privacy rights against the need to provide security. It did not, however, rule out data retention in principle.

The law had ordered that all data — except content — from phone calls and e-mail exchanges be retained for six months for possible use by criminal authorities, who could probe who contacted whom, from where and for how long.

"The disputed instructions neither provided a sufficient level of data security, nor sufficiently limited the possible uses of the data," the court said, adding that "such retention represents an especially grave intrusion."

The court said because citizens did not notice the data was being retained it caused "a vague and threatening sense of being watched."

Nearly 35,000 Germans had appealed to the court to overturn the law, which stems from a 2006 European Union anti-terrorism directive requiring telecommunications companies to retain phone data and Internet logs for a minimum of six months in case they are needed for criminal investigations.

Civil rights groups had fiercely opposed the law, arguing that even excluding the content of phone calls and e-mails could allow authorities too deep a view into their personal sphere.

"Massive amounts of data about German citizens who pose no threat and are not suspects is being retained," Germany's commissioner for data security issues, Peter Schaar, told ARD television.

Security experts argued the information is crucial to being able to trace crimes involving heavy use of the Internet, including tracking terror networks and child pornography rings.

While the court upheld the EU directive as necessary to fight terror, it took issue with how the German law had interpreted it and ordered further restrictions on access to the data.

Changes ordered by the court included granting access to the data only by court order and only in the event of "concrete and imminent danger." The court further insisted the information be stored in the private sector so it was not concentrated in one spot.

Germans, in particular, are sensitive to privacy issues, based on their experiences under the Nazis as well as the former East Germany's Communist dictatorships, where information on individuals was collected and abused by the state.
Can't see our courts taking that much interest in our rights, can you?