Tuesday

22nd Aug 2017

EU court scraps data surveillance law

  • Albrecht (r): 'a major victory for civil rights in Europe' (Photo: Jan Albrecht)

The EU court in Luxembourg has struck down a law on internet and phone surveillance, saying its loose wording opens the door to untoward snooping on private lives.

It said in its verdict on Tuesday (8 April) the “data retention directive” constitutes a “particularly serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data” in Europe.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It also said Europeans are likely to feel “their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance” if the bill is left intact.

The directive, passed in 2006, has already been transcribed into national law in most member states.

It obliges internet and phone companies to store data on who contacts whom, when, how often, and from which locations, for between six months and two years so that government agencies can use it to hunt down “serious crime”.

The ruling means the EU directive is null and void. Individual EU countries can still keep the national measures in place if they want, but they are likely to see a flood of legal challenges if they do.

Tuesday’s verdict comes after Austria and Ireland asked the EU tribunal to intervene following challenges by rights groups, local governments, and, in Austria, by 11,130 private applicants.

The court said the definition of “serious crime” is too “general.”

It criticised that the law “applies even to persons for whom there is no evidence capable of suggesting that their conduct might have a link, even an indirect or remote one, with serious crime”.

It complained that government access is “not made dependent on the prior review by a court or by an independent administrative body”.

It also complained the law “does not require that the data be retained within the EU,” opening the door to security breaches from outside Europe.

Jan Philip Albrecht, a German Green MEP at the heart of European Parliament law-making on data issues, described the verdict as “a major victory for civil rights in Europe”.

“Today's ruling is even more embarrassing for the German federal government and the EU commission, who continue to advocate in favour of data retention and other types of unfounded, unjustified blanket surveillance, for example through the air passenger data system,” he added.

Joe McNamee, the director of European Digital Rights, a Brussels-based NGO, noted: "After eight years, this affront to the fundamental rights of European citizens has finally been declared illegal.”

The European Commission was not available for comment on Tuesday morning amid a crisis meeting in its press service.

An EU official told EUobserver one option is to table a new version of the directive taking into account the court’s objections. But a new bill would take years to put together, and work is unlikely to begin before the May elections.

The contact added: “The commission has fined some member states for not transposing the measures quickly enough. So does this mean they will have to give the money back?”

Meanwhile, EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding did not wait for the executive to draft a common line.

“Glad #CJEU confirmed: we need independent #DataProtection authorities to uphold fundamental rights,” she tweeted.

“#CJEU confirms: #security not a 'super right' overruling the protection of personal data,” she added.

MEPs want to scrap US data agreements

Frustrated MEPs want the EU to scrap data protection agreements with the US as they mount pressure on the member states to start negotiations on the EU data protection reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Austria has begun checks at Italian border
  2. Slovenian PM: Brexit talks will take longer than expected
  3. Merkel backs diesel while report warns of economic harm
  4. UK to publish new Brexit papers this week
  5. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  6. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  7. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  8. European Union returns to 2 percent growth

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference