EU high court strikes down metadata collection law.
Citizens made to feel that they “are the subject of constant surveillance.”
While the United States continues to debate metadata collection conducted in secret by the National Security Agency, the European Union has been openly collecting the same sort of data for eight years.
In the wake of terrorist attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005), the European Union passed a directive in 2006 requiring that all telecommunications providers retain all kinds of telephone and Internet metadata for at least six months and provide it to law enforcement upon request.
The case was brought by activists at Digital Rights Ireland and the Austrian Working Group on Data Retention. The two organizations had challenged the law as it had been imposed in their respective countries.
The European judges concluded:
The Court takes the view 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. Furthermore, the fact that data are retained and subsequently used without the subscriber or registered user being informed is likely to generate in the persons concerned a feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance.
. . .
Although the retention of data required by the directive may be considered to be appropriate for attaining the objective pursued by it, the wide-ranging and particularly serious interference of the directive with the fundamental rights at issue is not sufficiently circumscribed to ensure that that interference is actually limited to what is strictly necessary.
“The ruling is great news for privacy and fundamental rights in Europe,” Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius, a researcher at the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam, told Ars. “The Court says basically that the fight against crime and terrorism, although important, doesn’t trump privacy rights.”