18 April 2011

Another One Bites The Dust: Czech Constitutional Court Shoots Data Retention With Five Bullets


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Autumn Morningphoto © 2007 Jeff | more info (via: Wylio)

The judicial development on data retention across Europe will not cease! Following the meanwhile numerous decisions in, just to mention some, Bulgaria, Romania and Germany, some two weeks ago

The Czech Constitutional Court Abrogated Data Retention

Yes, on a sitting held on 22 March 2011 it delivered a ruling abrogating Section 97, subsections 3 and 4 of the Czech Electronic Communications Act as well as the related Decree 485/2005 on the storage of traffic and location (altogether “the contested provisions”).

Court’s ruling grounded on the following

Reasoning

1. The language of the contested provisions is too vague and thus fails to fulfill the constitutional requirement on certainty and clarity.
2. The contested provisions have failed to clearly and precisely define the purpose to retain data and particularly to rectify the vague serious crimes language of Directive 2006/24/EC. Such failure contradicts the requirements laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms (the Charter).
3. The absence of clear legal determinations is likely to result in an abuse, i.e. in that the law enforcement agencies use retained data to combat less serious crimes. The latter view appears fortified by the following quotation from the 2008 Report on the security situation in the Czech Republic: a total number of 343 799 comitted criminal offenses resulted in the total number of 131 560 applications to access retained data.
4. The contested provisions have failed to safeguard the integrity and confidentiality of the retained data and to prevent access through (non-state) third parties. The Court opines that such safeguards are mandated by the enormous development and emergence of new and more complex information technologies and communications systems that inevitably blur the boundaries between private and public space.
5. The contested provisions have failed to provide for the destruction of the data following the retention period. The contested provisions have further failed to provide for responsibilities of and sanctions against the public authorities in case of abuse of the retained data as well as for the possibility of individuals to seek for effective relief against such abuse.

In light of the above, the Court found the contested provisions violating constitutional limits and hence unconstitutional. Besides, the Court expressed also some doubts as to the constitutionality of s. 88a of the Czech Criminal Code and urged the lawmakers to either derogate said section or provide for its constitutional compliance.

So, three cheers to the Czechs and their Constitutional Court!

Skydiver with Czech flag

photo © 2010 Ivan Pik | more info (via: Wylio)

 

Conclusion

The decision of the Czech Constitutional Court goes in a clear confrontation with the legislature.
It is the first decision in a EU member state to criticise the lack of responsibilities in dealings with retained data and to demand sanctions for negligence and misuse.
Unlike the decisions in Romania and Germany, it does not deliver  guidance as to how lawmakers should repair the contested provisions in order to achieve constitutional compliance.
In other words, the courts in Romania and Germany made really precise shots that aimed to merely injure their national data retention provisions. The Czech decision is quite the opposite: the justices shot to kill.
A righteous kill?
I would say yes.

What would you say?

3 March 2010

German Constitutional Court abrogates provisions on data retention


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Bundesverfassungsgericht Karlsruhephoto © 2006 Johannes Bader | more info (via: Wylio)

Hear ye, hear ye, you all supporters of the fundamental right of privacy – 7 out of 8 German Constitutional Justices voted to declare the data retention provisions as applied in the Telecommunications Act and in the Code on Criminal Procedure null and void!

Enough of enthusiasm, however, we can go on observing the facts some of which may prove unlikely sobering when compared to yesterday’s news titles that went around the world.

You might remember that some months ago nearly 35 000 German citizens filed a mass-complaint in which they asked the Court to abrogate the provisions on data retention.

In reviewing the complaint, the Court makes an initial statement that the Federal German Constitution would not by itself forbid the retention of telecommunications traffic data for a certain time period. However, the data retention as transposed in German legislature interfered with the fundamental right of privacy in such a manner that the legal system was previously not familiar with. Hence to avoid such interference and, similar to the Romanian Constitutional Court, the German authority uses its ruling to create a recipe to be followed by the lawmakers in future. The main point made by the Court in its ruling, is the instruction towards lawmakers to observe the so called principle of proportionality (Verhältnismäßigkeitsgrundsatz).

Under reference of the above principle, the Court distills 5 requirements that need specifically be observed when drafting the prospective laws. In particular, the Court demands

– the adoption of specific provisions relating to enhanced data security and safety which the Court views mandated by the huge amounts of data to be retained;

– to safeguard that the retained data’s direct processing shall be limited to prevent only concrete danger situations arising out of  serious crimes;

– to ensure the transparency of data transfer by notifying the data subject in advance, and – where not appropriate – to subject the transfer to a respective court order and notify the data subject afterwards;

– to provide for the data subject’s legal protection amounting to, inter alia, data subject’s right to challenge the processing and transfer of their data before a court of competent jurisdiction, and – in case of breach of the above protection – to penalise such breach;

– to guarantee that indirect data processing for the purposes of IP address detection and identification, as may be the result of an enforced right of information , is not undertaken to prevent mere misdemeanours. The Court points out the importance of the latter as it states that such indirect data processing need not be subjected to a court order.

Put it all together, this long awaited ruling did hardly hit the jackpot being on stake: is the fundamental right of privacy the long expected silver bullet which is supposed to kill the vampire attempting to quench its thirst by accessing Internet users’ data? I personally read the ruling as a clear “NO”.

The Court does not really question the existence of data retention provisions. Moreover, it determines the borders of their constitutionally acceptable framing. See whether and to what extent the ruling will influence the EU member states that are still defaulting to transpone the Directive 24/2006.

 

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