26 May 2010

Will Ireland eventually overthrow data retention?


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The Four Courts Dublinphoto © 2008 William Murphy | more info (via: Wylio)

There has not been much discussion in the aftermath of the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on data retention and the matter somehow started to collect legal dust. The recent Irish involvement, however, could cause the necessary aeration and preserve the issue from getting buried in oblivion.

Digital Rights Ireland, a non-governmental organization formed as a limited liability company under the Irish Companies Act, brought proceedings before the Irish High Court against the Minister for Communication, Marine and Natural Resource, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Commissioner of An Garda Siochana, Ireland and the Attorney General because of latter authorities’ breaches against rights provided for by Irish statutes and Constitution as well as by European legislation. Claimant’s proceedings were triggered by Minister for Public Enterprise’s direction, issued in 2002, to the telecommunications providers in Ireland to retain data generated by customers of the telecommunications providers, purportedly in compliance with Section 110 (1) of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983. This direction was addressed by the Data Protection Commissioner who then threatened said Minister with the issuance of judicial review proceedings to challenge the validity of any and all such directions.

The response of the Irish Government was to pass the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, and specifically the incorporation therein of the provisions of Part 7 thereof. Under that part of the Act, the Garda Commissioner may request a service provider to retain, for a period of 3 years, traffic data or location data or both.

This is also what claimant is combatting. They have asked the High Court to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The questions the ECJ needs to deal with all relate to the validity of Directive 24/2006, in particular with rights under the EU and EC Treaties, the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The High Court, in its ruling, granted this motion of claimant.

It is somewhat surprising that another “Irish issue” will land before the ECJ in less than a year following ECJ’s ruling agaisnt Ireland in the Case C·301/06. In the latter, the ECJ found that Art 95 of the EC Treaty represented a sound fundament for the enactment of the Directive 24/2006 since it was apparent that differences between national rules adopted for the retention of data were liable to have a foreseeable direct impact on the functioning of the internal market which would become more serious over time.

However, following the debates in Bulgaria, Romania and Germany it was high time to have the ECJ rule on data retention’s – this time hopefully – not only procedural, but also material aspects. In a somewhat best case for the preservation of our all’s digital rights the ECJ might find against the Directive.

The hope, as is well-known, springs eternal – so let us hope the best.

 

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