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EU lawyers tell Member States: Blanket communications data retention "no longer possible" (23 Jun) Print E-mail

Denmark, the UK, and many other EU governments have so far refused to follow April's landmark ruling by the EU Court of Justice annulling the Data Retention Directive, which required Telecommunications and Internet Service Providers to store detailed records about all of their customers' communications and Internet use. But civil liberties campaigners AK Vorrat have now obtained internal documents showing that at a recent closed meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers the Council's Legal Services stated that paragraph 59 of the European Court of Justice's ruling on the Data Retention Directive "suggests that general and blanket data retention is no longer possible". 

AK Vorrat member Heiko Stamer hails this news: "The EU's lawyers have confirmed that a reenactment of a blanket data retention directive - which is under consideration by the EU Commission and would be welcomed by many Member State governments - is no longer a legal option. We call upon the Commission to uphold our fundamental rights by rejecting attempts to renew blanket collection of communications and movement data. Considering cross-border communications and our common responsibility for the right to privacy of all EU citizens, we urge the EU to enact an explicit legislative ban on national blanket data retention laws. Europe needs to be an area of freedom rather than an area of distrust or general suspicion."

Background information:

The EU Data Retention Directive has been annulled by the European Court of Justice for violating the fundamental right to privacy. The indiscriminate retention of information on every telephone call, text message, e-mail and Internet connection made by any citizen was "the most privacy invasive instrument ever adopted by the EU in terms of scale and the number of people it affects" (Peter Hustinx, European Data Protection Supervisor).

Blanket and indiscriminate telecommunications data retention has proven harmful to many sectors of society: It disrupts confidential communications in areas that legitimately require non-traceability (e.g. contacts with psychotherapists, physicians, lawyers, workers' councils, marriage counsellors, drug abuse counsellors, helplines), thus endangering the physical and mental health of people in need of assistance as well as the people around them. The inability of journalists to electronically receive information through untraceable channels compromises the freedom of the press, which damages preconditions of our open and democratic society. Blanket data retention creates risks of abuse and loss of confidential information relating to our contacts, movements and interests, damaging freedom of association. Communications data are particularly susceptible to producing unjustified suspicions and subjecting innocent citizens to criminal investigation.

In a joint letter, more than 100 organisations from 23 European countries have called on the EU to reject "EU requirements regarding data retention in favour of a system of expedited preservation and targeted collection of traffic data".

About the German Working Group on Data Retention: The Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (AK Vorrat) is a Germany-wide organisation which campaigns against extensive surveillance in general and the blanket logging of telecommunications and other behavioural data in particular.

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