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Major victory for Irish online rights group as ECJ strikes down EU mobile surveillance rules

Digital Rights Ireland hard argued that the rules requiring operators to keep call details were against fundamental rights.

THE EUROPEAN COURT Of Justice has declared that rules requiring mobile operators to keep details about people’s mobile habits are an invasion of privacy and have struck them down.

The decision follows a case taken by Irish lobby group Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) who argued that the data retention directive was in breach of constitutional rights under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The data retention directive required operators to keep information about who a person called and for how long, where someone was when they made a call and who a person e-mail or texted.

DRI say that the information kept was “almost everything bar the actual content of a particular phone call, email or text message”.

The data retention directive was put in place by the EU to ensure that the data is available for the prevention and investigation of serious crime and terrorism.

But today the ECJ has declared the directive invalid:

Those data, taken as a whole, may provide very precise information on the private lives of the persons whose data are retained, such as the habits of everyday life, permanent or temporary places of residence, daily or other movements, activities carried out, social relationships and the social environments frequented.The Court takes the view that, by requiring the retention of those data and by allowing the competent national authorities to access those data, the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.

Furthermore, ECJ say that data retention is likely to make people “feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance”.


The ECJ also examined whether the interference with fundamental rights was justified.

It found that, “although the retention of data required by the directive may be considered to be appropriate for attaining the objective pursued by it”, it is too wide-ranging and does not contain enough discretion:

The Court is of the opinion that, by adopting the Data Retention Directive, the EU legislature has exceeded the limits imposed by compliance with the principle of proportionality.

DRI has today welcomed the ECJ’s decision in the case they first took in 2006, saying it will affect the lives of Europe’s half-billion citizens.

“This is the first assessment of mass surveillance by a supreme court since the Snowden revelations. The ECJ’s judgement finds that untargeted monitoring of the entire population is unacceptable in a democratic society, ” said DRI’s chairman TJ McIntyre.

McGarr Solicitors, who represent DRI, also  welcomed the decision:

This case is a profound statement of European values by Europe’s top court. The court has rejected the principle of mass surveillance of EU citizens without suspicion as incompatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It will be up to individual member states to now ensure their domestic law is in compliance with the ECJ’s judgment.

The ECJ’s judgement is available in full here (h/t TJ McIntyre) >

Read: Digital Rights Ireland defend existing online laws before oireachtas committee >

Read: ECJ says web hosts can’t be forced to install anti-copyright filters >

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