Laws change after EU declares storage of phone data infringes ‘fundamental rights’

A ruling known as the ‘Data Retention Directive’ was introduced after the terrorist bombings in London and Madrid in 2006. Now, the ruling has been overturned by the European Union’s top court after deeming it “exceeded the limits” required.

The directive forced all European telecoms companies to keep their customers’ phone records – including calls, texts, and data access history – for up to two years. This information is accessible by any competent national authorities.

It was decided that this intrusive surveillance infringes on “fundamental rights” to respect individuals’ private lives and the protection of their personal data – although it should be made clear the specific contents of messages and calls have never been stored.

"The Court finds that the directive does not provide for sufficient safeguards to ensure effective protection of the data against the risk of abuse and against any unlawful access and use of the data," said the judgment.

"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."

The directive's review comes after Austrian and Irish courts questioned whether it contravenes with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. In Germany, the country’s Constitutional Court blocked the directive and instead said it would bring about its own law. The ruling wasn’t upheld however, and Germany managed to avoid any condemnation for its actions.

Over in the US, an overhaul is currently in progress of its own data collection program. President Obama proposed back in March that information on citizens’ phone data should be collected by telecoms companies rather than the controversial NSA (National Security Agency).

The NSA currently stores phone data for up to five years. Under the proposal, this information would be stored by the telecoms companies themselves and only accessible from the US government with explicit approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

FISA’s court is compromised of 11 judges who sit for seven-year terms and are appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts without any influence from branches of government – to prevent bias. Certain types of government requests such as wiretapping, data analysis, and other monitoring for "foreign intelligence purposes" of suspected terrorists and spies operating in the United States – must first be granted here.

Of 1,856 applications in 2012 for surveillance purposes – none were denied. 40 of those were however modified to some extent. The court’s effectiveness has been criticised due to only hearing the government’s side of a request.

How do you feel about phone data storage by telecoms companies and/or the government?

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