Germany’s bulk data retention law is illegal, EU court finds

Barbie Espinol

The European Court of Justice said the ‘general and indiscriminate retention’ of traffic and location data is only allowed when there is a ‘serious threat to national security’.

Europe’s top court has struck a blow to Germany’s data retention laws by ruling against its telecommunications law.

The German law (called TKG) requires telecom operators to retain the traffic data of its customers for 10 weeks and location data for a period of four weeks.

German telecom firms SpaceNet and Telekom Deutschland challenged this German legal requirement. In its ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled in favour of the telecom firms.

“The Court of Justice confirms that EU law precludes the general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data, except in the case of a serious threat to national security.”

The court said the retention of traffic and location data for long time periods could allow “very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data are retained”.

The ECJ said this data allows a profile to be built an individuals, that includes places of residence, daily movements, daily activities, social relationships and “the social environments frequented”.

“The data of users who are subject to a duty of professional secrecy, such as lawyers, doctors and journalists, are also retained,” the ECJ said in relation to the German law.

The court ruled that there are specific circumstances when the retention of this data is allowed, such as the targeted retention of traffic and location data to combat serious crime and prevent serious threats to public security.

The ECJ also ruled that the “general and indiscriminate retention” of IP addresses or data on the civil identity of users, is allowed for the purposes of safeguarding national security.

“Such national legislation must, moreover, ensure, by means of clear and precise rules, that the retention of data at issue is subject to compliance with the applicable substantive and procedural conditions and that the persons concerned have effective safeguards against the risks of abuse,” the European court said.

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