EU top court slams Germany over citizens’ data collection

An adviser to the EU’s top court has claimed that citizens’ information in Germany is being illegally harvested, after telecom companies challenged bulk data collection.

The German data retention law was criticized on Thursday by an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), who stated that general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data is only allowed in exceptional cases, such as a threat to national security.

According to the adviser, bulk collection of data generates a ‘serious risk’ of leaks or improper access. It also entails a ‘serious interference’ with citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and the protection of personal data.

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(FILE PHOTO) © REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
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This comes after two companies, SpaceNet and Telekom Deutschland, challenged the obligation to store their customers’ telecommunications traffic data in 2016. The Administrative Court of Cologne ruled that the two companies were not obliged to retain data because such an obligation violated Union law. Germany then appealed to the Federal Administrative Court, who asked the CJEU about the compatibility of the data retention obligation.

The CJEU has often stated that indiscriminate mass surveillance does not fit within the general principles of EU law. Over a year ago it saw a similar case involving legal challenges around national bulk data collection under UK and French law. The court then ruled that only limited data collection and temporary retention were allowed. France seeks to bypass the CJEU on data retention and has asked the country’s highest administrative court (the Council of State) not to follow the EU ruling. France is waiting for the conclusion of the procedure launched by the Council of State before “assessing to what extent” national law should be changed. 

Despite recent EU court attempts to curb surveillance powers, leaked papers from June 2021 show that the national governments of the Netherlands, France, Spain, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Estonia are pushing for a new pan-EU data retention law. They claim that data retention is essential for safeguarding public security and ensuring effective criminal investigations.

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