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UK to introduce emergency data retention measures

15/07/2014
The UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that the Government is taking emergency measures to fast track new legislation, The Data Retention and Investigations Powers Bill, which will The UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that the Government is taking emergency measures to fast track new legislation, The Data Retention and Investigations Powers Bill, which will force communications service providers (i.e. telecommunications companies and internet service providers, together "CSPs") to store communications data (including call and internet search metadata) for 12 months.

This announcement follows the CJEU's ruling in April that the Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC (the "Directive"), which requires companies to store communications data for up to two years, is invalid because it contravenes the right to privacy and data protection and the principle of proportionality under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the "Charter"). The CJEU was particularly concerned about the lack of restrictions on how, why and when data could be used. It called for a measure which was more specific in terms of crimes covered and respective retention periods.

The PM said that the emergency law was necessary to protect existing interception capabilities, and that without it, the Government would be less able to protect the country from paedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals. Cameron said the new legislation will respond to the CJEU's concerns and provide a clear legal basis for companies to retain such communications data and also stressed that the new measures would cover the retention of only metadata, such as the time, place and frequency of communications, and would not cover the content of communications.  The emergency Bill is intended as a temporary measure and is to expire in 2016. The Government intends that the legislation will ensure that, in the short term, UK security and law enforcement agencies can continue to function whilst Parliament has time to examine the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to make recommendations on how it could be modernised and improved. Whilst Cameron stressed that the measures did not impose new obligations on CSPs and insisted they would not authorise new intrusions on civil liberties, the Bill faces criticism that it extends on the already far reaching interception rights under RIPA and also that in light of the CJEU decision, the temporary measure also contravenes the Charter.

At present, in order to comply with their obligations under the Directive, CSPs already operate significant storage and retrieval systems to retain data from which they can derive no further use or revenue. If the draft Bill is enacted with little further amendment, the UK's Secretary of State could be issuing new retention notices later this year. Those CSPs subject to retention obligations today will be reading carefully as these arrive. It is not yet clear whether the legislative burden and cost of compliance is likely to spread to additional CSPs not previously notified under the current retention regime. From the Bill's drafting it appears this could conceivably happen. It is equally clear that there is no mechanism to recoup these costs other than from their general business operations.

Britain is the first EU country to seek to rewrite its laws to continue data retention since the CJEU decision, and the Government said it was in close contact with other European states on the issue.

By comparison, in Germany, when the Directive was initially implemented, the German courts took the view that the German implementation of it by far exceeded the limits set by the German constitutional right of informational self-determination of the individual in that it did not narrow down the scope of use of the retained data sufficiently, e. g., by not limiting it to the prosecution or prevention of certain severe criminal acts. In Germany's new Telecommunication Act, enacted in 2012, the provisions pertaining to data retention were deleted and not replaced by the compulsory principles in the Directive. Treaty violation proceedings against Germany by the EU Commission ensued, however the proceedings have now lost their grounds entirely as a result of the CJEU ruling.

Meanwhile the Constitutional Court of Austria last month declared that Austrian data retention laws were unconstitutional. Austria is the first EU Member State to annul data retention laws in response to the CJEU decision.  Austrian companies are now only obliged to retain data for specific purposes provided by law, such as billing of fault recovery.

Whether other EU countries will now follow the UK's lead, potentially introducing a patchwork of data retention standards for CSPs throughout the EU, remains to be seen. If this happens, then equally uncertain is the conflict this will create between, on the one hand, nationally-driven data retention standards and, on the other, EU fundamental rights of privacy and data protection.

 

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