I acknowledge the Labour Party and Deputy Sherlock support the retention of data. It is not sustainable, however, if one subscribes to the basic principle behind the legislation that data retention is a good measure, helpful in the detection and prosecution of crime but then questions the expert advice and recommendations of the Garda on the retention time. The Garda is having to deal with gangland crime and counter-terrorism. The nature of both do not require the normal instruments of detection and investigation but the use of the most up-to-date technologies. In this respect, we ought to rely on the Garda's recommendations.
Deputy Sherlock is concerned the retention period may put Irish telecommunications businesses, which would store the information and make it available to the Garda, at a competitive disadvantage to their European counterparts. The service providers were not prepared to individually disclose their costs when drafting this legislation, understandably for reasons of commercial sensitivity. The service providers, however, agreed through one of their representative associations to offer a composite figure compiled by the nine largest telecommunications companies in the State. They estimate the annual running costs will come to a total of €1.5 million with a once-off capital cost of €2.9 million. In proportionate terms, this is a relatively small amount when one considers the annual turnover of the telecommunications sector. It would be reduced by only a minuscule amount if one were to reduce the data retention period to 12 months.
The argument does not stack up. A review of the operation of the directive is being undertaken by the European Commission. This is important in the context of these amendments and also for the legislation generally. The Commission has been conducting one to one discussions with member states to ascertain how the directive is operating in practice in each country. The discussion with our officials took place last autumn. The Commission will submit an evaluation of the application of the directive and its impact on operators and consumers to the European Parliament and the Council not later than 15 September. Among the matters taken into account in the evaluation are further developments in electronic telecommunications technology and the statistics submitted by each member state under Article 10 of the directive. I cannot anticipate the outcome of the evaluation or any changes to the directive that may be made by the Parliament or the Council but the opportunity to consider amendments such as those proposed by Deputy Sherlock is when we debate any legislation that may arise from an amended directive.
I wish to express my appreciation to the service providers in operating the data retention scheme in a manner of goodwill and co-operation with the law enforcement authorities. In line with a number of other member states, costs are not reimbursed to the companies. That is a good example of how the industry can give practical effect to its social and corporate responsibility in helping our law enforcers to fight crime by disclosing information at their disposal.