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Blanket collection of telecommunications data again found to violate fundamental rights (5 Apr 2011) Print E-mail

The German Working Group on Data Retention welcomes last week's annulment of the Czech data retention law by the Czech Constitutional Court and calls for a repeal of the underlying EU data retention directive.

On Thursday, the Czech Constitutional Court found the Czech law that required telecommunications companies to collect information on all citizens' electronic communications via telephone, mobile phone, e-mail or Internet access, in breach of the fundamental right to privacy.[1] In the reasons given for the judgment[2] the Constitutional Court expressed fundamental doubts "whether, having regard to the intensity of the interference and the myriad of private sector users of electronic communications, blanket retention of traffic and location data of almost all electronic communications is necessary and appropriate". The Court showed itself unconvinced that collecting data on non-suspects is an "effective tool". Referring to Czech crime statistics and a study published by AK Vorrat[3], the Court concluded that "blanket retention of traffic and location data had little effect on reducing the number of committed serious crimes".

"The Constitutional Court rightly found unconvincing the results that advocates of blanket telecommunications data retention can present", comments Florian Altherr of NGO Working Group on Data Retention. "According to all police statistics, crime can be investigated and prosecuted just as effectively with targeted investigation techniques that do not rely on indiscriminate retention of every citizen's communications data. The EU Commission must now act upon this judgement and propose the repeal of the EU data retention directive."

"Parliaments in states such as the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Romania should continue to respect the fundamental right to privacy and refuse to comply with the EU data retention directive", adds Patrick Breyer of AK Vorrat. "The EU data retention directive will probably be annulled by the European Court of Justice soon, just as national data retention laws have been in Romania, Germany and the Czech Republic. In the meantime, national governments should apply for being exempted from the data retention directive (article 114 (4) TFEU)."

The EU data retention directive 2006/24 creates a process for recording details of who communicated with whom via various electronic communications systems, in order to facilitate law enforcement. In the case of mobile phone calls and SMS messages, the respective location of the users is also recorded. In combination with other data, Internet usage is also to be made traceable. The policy of indiscriminately retaining communications data of non-suspects is widely critizised by civil liberties, data protection and human rights associations as well as crisis line and emergency call operators, professional associations of journalists, jurists and doctors, trade unions, consumer organisations and industry associations. They have all been calling for "the repeal of the EU requirements regarding data retention in favour of a system of expedited preservation and targeted collection of traffic data as agreed in the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime".[4]

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