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ECJ declares EU Data Retention Directive invalid.

09/04/2014
The ECJ has declared invalid the EU Data Retention Directive, (Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in The ECJ has declared invalid the EU Data Retention Directive, (Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC) which requires telecoms companies to store citizens' communications data for up to two years. The Directive requires that companies store data on individuals' identity, the times of their communications, the place from which the communication took place and the frequency of their communications.

The ECJ ruled that the Directive is incompatible with Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, stating that "By requiring the retention of those data and by allowing the competent national authorities to access those data, the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data".

Since its introduction in March 2006, the Directive has been widely criticised by journalists, privacy and human rights organisations, IT security companies, and legal professionals but the ECJ's investigation and EU-wide ruling were prompted by the Constitutional Court of Austria and the High Court of Ireland asking the ECJ to decide whether or not the Directive complied with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Privacy or security?

While the ECJ acknowledged that data retention may be necessary to fight serious crime and for public security, the judges argued that the requirements under the Directive are disproportionate, stating that the collection and use of personal data without the owners' knowledge "is likely to generate in the persons concerned a feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance", adding that the Directive does not contain adequate safeguards against incorrect use of personal data.

Reactions to the ruling

A spokesman from HM Government has responded to the ruling, claiming that retention of communications data is essential to enabling law enforcement authorities to investigate crime and ensure national security: "We cannot be in a position where service providers are unable to retain this data".

By contrast, campaigners from the technology world and human rights groups have welcomed the ECJ's ruling: Joe McNamee, executive director of European Digital Rights Group called the law an affront to the fundamental rights of European citizens, adding that the decision marked the end of "eight years of abuses of personal data", whilst Jim Killock from Open Rights Group in the UK hopes to see the ruling's effects reach further: "Blanket data collection interferes with our privacy rights.  We must now see the repeal of national legislation that obliges telecoms companies to collect data about our personal phone calls, text messages, emails and internet usage."

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