Wednesday

26th Apr 2017

Blanket data retention is illegal under EU law, court says

  • Bulk data gathering and retention from citizens is illegal under EU law (Photo: Bob Mical)

The “general and indiscriminate retention” of emails and electronic data by governments is illegal under EU law, the bloc’s highest court has ruled.

National governments can order only targeted data retention in order to fight serious crime, the European Court of Jutstice (ECJ) decided on Wednesday (21 December).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The decision serves a blow to the UK's so-called snooper’s charter, the Investigatory Powers Act, a 2016 law that orders all kinds of firms - including telecoms operators, social media companies and data storage firms - to collect and retain data and give the authorities free access.

The decision sets an EU standard for data retention for surveillance purposes that needs to be respected by member states.

“The fact that the data is retained without the users of electronic communications services being informed of the fact is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance" the court said in the summary of the ruling.

"Consequently, only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference."

It said any law that orders blanket data retention "exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society".

The British government said it was "disappointed" after the ECJ said the "indiscriminate" collection of data was against EU law, the BBC reported.

The legal challenge was originally brought to court by Brexit secretary David Davis when he was a backbench MP, but he withdrew from the case when he was appointed minister.

His original concern was with the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, a 2014 that mandated firms to collect and store data for government requests. The 2016 law substantially extended the government's powers, and its demands on firms.

The case now returns to the UK Court of Appeal, and the UK government said it would not make any changes until the court had ruled on the legal challenge to the legislation.

In a related case, the Luxembourg court said Sweden's telecom regulator was similarly in breach of EU law when it required telecom companies to hold onto the sensitive data.

The case involved Swedish telecom company Tele2, which stopped retaining the data following a similar ruling by the ECJ in 2014.

European states still top media freedom list

Nordic countries Norway, Sweden and Finland still have the world's most free media, according to Reporters Without Borders, but the overall situation is declining.

News in Brief

  1. EU parliament moves to lift Le Pen's immunity
  2. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's university law
  3. Scots slowly losing appetite for independence - poll
  4. Council of Europe puts Turkey on watch list
  5. EU to put parental leave on political agenda
  6. Israel cancels German meeting over human rights groups
  7. Hungary's Orban will participate in EU parliament debate
  8. Malta floats cash-for-refugees plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children

Latest News

  1. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  2. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care
  3. Nordic and Baltic countries step up digitalisation efforts
  4. European states still top media freedom list
  5. Let’s not put European public health at risk
  6. Threatened Budapest university calls for EU support
  7. Orban set to face down EU threats
  8. Dont expect 'quick fix' in Syria, China tells EU