Tag Archives: EU Charter

Data retention, only possible under strict necessity: targeted retention and pre-authorised access to retained data

The Court of Justice of the European Union (‘the Court’ or ‘CJEU’) gave a second judgment this week on the compatibility of data retention measures with the fundamental rights of persons as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (in Joined Cases C-203/15 and C-698/15 Tele2Sverige). The Court confirmed all its findings from the earlier Digital Rights Ireland judgment and took the opportunity to clarify and nuance some of its initial key-findings (for an analysis of the DRI judgment, see my article published in 2015).

The two cases that were joined by the Court emerged in the fallout of the invalidation of the Data Retention Directive by the CJEU in the DRI judgment. Even if that Directive was declared invalid for breaching fundamental rights, most of the national laws that transposed it in the Member States were kept in force invoking Article 15(1) of the ePrivacy Directive. This Article provided for an exception to the rule of ensuring confidentiality of communications, which allowed Member States to “inter alia, adopt legislative measures providing for the retention of data for a limited period justified on the grounds laid down in this paragraph”. What the Member States seem to have disregarded with their decision to keep national data retention laws in force was that the same paragraph, last sentence, provided that “all the measures referred to in this paragraph (including data retention – my note) shall be in accordance with the general principles of Community law” (see §91 and §92 of the judgment). Respect for fundamental rights is one of those principles.

The Tele2Sverige case was initiated by a telecommunications service provider that followed the decision of the Court in DRI and stopped to retain data, because it considered that the national law requiring it do retain data was in breach of EU law. The Swedish authorities did not agree with this interpretation and this is how the Court was given the opportunity to clarify the relationship between national data retention law and EU law after the invalidation of the Data Retention Directive. The Watson case originates in the UK, was initiated by individuals and refers to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014(DRIPA).

In summary, the Court found that “national legislation which, for the purpose of fighting crime, provides for general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication” is in breach of Article 7 (right to private life), Article 8 (right to the protection of personal data) and Article 11 (right to freedom of speech) from the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The Court clarified that such legislation is precluded by Article 15(1) of the ePrivacy Directive. (See §1 from the executive part of the judgment)

Moreover, the Court found that national legislation in the field of the ePrivacy Directive that regulates the access of competent national authorities to retained data is incompatible with the three fundamental rights mentioned above, as long as:

  1. the objective pursued by that access, in the context of fighting crime, is not restricted solely to fighting serious crime;
  2. access is not subject to prior review by a court or an independent administrative authority;
  3. there is no requirement that the data concerned should be retained within the European Union (§2 of the operative part of the judgment).

There are a couple of remarkable findings of the Court in the Tele2Sverige/Watson judgment, analysed below. Brace yourselves for a long post. But it’s worth it. I’ll be looking at (1) how indiscriminate retention of metadata interferes with freedom of speech, (2) why data retention is merely an exception of the principle of confidentiality of communications and must not become the rule, (3) why the Court considers retaining on a generalised basis metadata is a far-reaching intrusion in the right to private life, (4) what is “targeted retention” and under what conditions the Court sees it acceptable and, finally (5) what is the impact of all of this on the Privacy Shield and PNR schemes.

 

(1) Indiscriminate retention of metadata interferes with freedom of speech

Even though none of the preliminary ruling questions asked the Court to look at compliance of national data retention measures also in the light of Article 11 Charter (freedom of speech), the Court did so by its own motion.

This was needed so that the Court finishes what it began in DRI. In that previous case, the Court referred to Article 11 Charter in §28, replying to a specific preliminary ruling question, by mentioning that:

“it is not inconceivable that the retention of the data in question might have an effect on the use, by subscribers or registered users, of the means of communication covered by that directive and, consequently, on their exercise of the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 11 of the Charter”.

However, it never analysed if that was the case. In §70, the Court just stated that, after finding the Directive to be invalid because it was not compliant with Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, “there is no need to examine the validity of Directive 2006/24 in the light of Article 11 of the Charter”.

This time, the Court developed its argument. It started by underlying that data retention legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings “raises questions relating to compatibility not only with Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, which are expressly referred to in the questions referred for a preliminary ruling, but also with the freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 11 of the Charter” (§92).

The Court continued by emphasising that the importance of freedom of expression must be taken into consideration when interpreting Article 15(1) of the ePrivacy Directive “in the light of the particular importance accorded to that freedom in any democratic society” (§93). “That fundamental right (freedom of expression), guaranteed in Article 11 of the Charter, constitutes one of the essential foundations of a pluralist, democratic society, and is one of the values on which, under Article 2 TEU, the Union is founded” (§93), it continues.

The Court justifies the link between data retention and freedom of expression by slightly more confidently (compared to DRI) stating that:

“the retention of traffic and location data could nonetheless have an effect on the use of means of electronic communication and, consequently, on the exercise by the users thereof of their freedom of expression, guaranteed in Article 11 of the Charter” (§101)

The operative part of the judgment clearly states that Articles 7, 8 and 11 of the Charter preclude data retention legislation such as that in the main proceedings.

(2) The exception to the “principle of confidentiality” must not become the rule

The Court refers several times to a “principle of confidentiality of communications” (§85, §90, §95, §115). It explains in §85 that this principle is established by the ePrivacy Directive and “implies, inter alia, (…) that, as a general rule, any person other than the users is prohibited from storing, without the consent of the users concerned, the traffic data related to electronic communications. The only exceptions relate to persons lawfully authorised in accordance with Article 15(1) of that directive and to the technical storage necessary for conveyance of a communication.”

With regard to the first exception, the Court recalls that, because Article 15(1) is construed so as “to restrict the scope of the obligation of principle to ensure confidentiality of communications and related traffic data”, it “must, in accordance with the Court’s settled case-law, be interpreted strictly” (§89). The Court adds, using strong language:

“That provision cannot, therefore, permit the exception to that obligation of principle and, in particular, to the prohibition on storage of data, laid down in Article 5 of Directive 2002/58, to become the rule, if the latter provision is not to be rendered largely meaningless” (§89).

In any case, the Court adds, all exceptions adopted pursuant to Article 15(1) of the ePrivacy Directive must be in accordance with the general principles of EU law, which include the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter (§91) and must strictly have one of the objectives enumerated in Article 15(1) of the ePrivacy Directive (§90).

As for the second derogation to the principle, the Court looks at recitals 22 and 26 of the ePrivacy Directive and affirms that the retention of traffic data is permitted “only to the extent necessary and for the time necessary for the billing and marketing of services and the provision of value added services. (…) As regards, in particular, the billing of services, that processing is permitted only up to the end of the period during which the bill may be lawfully challenged or legal proceedings brought to obtain payment. Once that period has elapsed, the data processed and stored must be erased or made anonymous” (§85).

(3) A”very far-reaching” and “particularly serious” interference

The Court observed that the national data retention laws at issue in the main proceedings “provides for a general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication, and that it imposes on providers of electronic communications services an obligation to retain that data systematically and continuously, with no exceptions” (§97).

The data retained is metadata and is described in detail in §98. The Court confirmed its assessment in DRI that metadata “taken as a whole, is liable to allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained, such as everyday habits, permanent or temporary places of residence, daily or other movements, the activities carried out, the social relationships of those persons and the social environments frequented by them” (§99). It also added that this data “provides the means (…) of establishing a profile of the individuals concerned, information that is no less sensitive, having regard to the right to privacy, than the actual content of communications” (§99).

The Court went further to emphasise that this kind of undiscriminating gathering of data represents a “very far-reaching” and “particularly serious” interference in the fundamental rights to private life and protection of personal data (§100). Moreover, “he fact that the data is retained without the subscriber or registered user being informed is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance” (§100).

The Court indicates that such a far-reaching interference can only be justified by the objective of fighting serious crime (§102). And even in this case, the objective of fighting serious crime does not justify in itself “general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data” (§103). The measures must, in addition, be strictly necessary to achieve this objective (§106).

The Court found that the national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings does not comply with this request, because (§105):

  • it “covers, in a generalised manner, all subscribers and registered users and all means of electronic communication as well as all traffic data, provides for no differentiation, limitation or exception according to the objective pursued”.
  • “It is comprehensive in that it affects all persons using electronic communication services, even though those persons are not, even indirectly, in a situation that is liable to give rise to criminal proceedings”.
  • It “applies even to persons for whom there is no evidence capable of suggesting that their conduct might have a link, even an indirect or remote one, with serious criminal offences”.
  • “it does not provide for any exception, and consequently it applies even to persons whose communications are subject, according to rules of national law, to the obligation of professional secrecy”.

(4) Targeted data retention is permissible. Here is a list with all conditions:

The Court spells out that fundamental rights do not prevent a Member State from adopting “legislation permitting, as a preventive measure, the targeted retention of traffic and location data, for the purpose of fighting serious crime, provided that the retention of data is limited, with respect to:

  • the categories of data to be retained,
  • the means of communication affected,
  • the persons concerned and
  • the retention period adopted, to what is strictly necessary” (§108).

In addition, such legislation must:

  • “lay down clear and precise rules governing the scope and application of such a data retention measure and imposing minimum safeguards, so that the persons whose data has been retained have sufficient guarantees of the effective protection of their personal data against the risk of misuse.
  • indicate in what circumstances and under which conditions a data retention measure may, as a preventive measure, be adopted, thereby ensuring that such a measure is limited to what is strictly necessary” §109().

Other conditions that need to be fulfilled for a data retention legislation to be considered compatible with fundamental rights are indicated directly or indirectly by the Court in further paragraphs.

Such legislation must:

  • be restricted to “retention in relation to data pertaining to a particular time period and/or geographical area and/or a group of persons likely to be involved, in one way or another, in a serious crime, or
  • persons who could, for other reasons, contribute, through their data being retained, to fighting crime” (§106).
  • “meet objective criteria, that establish a connection between the data to be retained and the objective pursued. In particular, such conditions must be shown to be such as actually to circumscribe, in practice, the extent of that measure and, thus, the public affected” (§110).
  • “be based on objective evidence which makes it possible to identify a public whose data is likely to reveal a link, at least an indirect one, with serious criminal offences, and to contribute in one way or another to fighting serious crime or to preventing a serious risk to public security” (§111).
  • “lay down clear and precise rules indicating in what circumstances and under which conditions the providers of electronic communications services must grant the competent national authorities access to the data. (…) a measure of that kind must be legally binding under domestic law” (§117).
  • “lay down the substantive and procedural conditions governing the access of the competent national authorities to the retained data” (§118).
  • provide that data must be “retained within the European Union” (§122).
  • provide for “the irreversible destruction of the data at the end of the data retention period” (§122).
  • must “ensure review, by an independent authority, of compliance with the level of protection guaranteed by EU law with respect to the protection of individuals in relation to the processing of personal data, that control being expressly required by Article 8(3) of the Charter” (§123).

Other specific conditions emerge with regard to access of competent authorities to the retained data. Access:

  • “can be granted, in relation to the objective of fighting crime, only to the data of individuals suspected of planning, committing or having committed a serious crime or of being implicated in one way or another in such a crime” (§119). [The Court refers here to the ECtHR cases of Zacharov and Szabo, after a long series of privacy related cases where it did not refer at all to the ECtHR case-law].
  • must be subject to “a prior review carried out either by a court or by an independent administrative body” (…) “the decision of that court or body should be made following a reasoned request by those authorities submitted, inter alia, within the framework of procedures for the prevention, detection or prosecution of crime” (§120). The only exception for the prior review are “cases of validly established urgency” (§120).
  • must be notified by authorities to the persons affected “under the applicable national procedures, as soon as that notification is no longer liable to jeopardise the investigations being undertaken by those authorities. That notification is, in fact, necessary to enable the persons affected to exercise, inter alia, their right to a legal remedy” (§121).
  • must be restricted solely to fighting serious crime (§125).

(5) Possible effects on the Privacy Shield and on PNR schemes

This judgment could have indirect effects on the “Privacy Shield” and slightly more immediate effects on Passenger Name Records schemes.

The indirect effect on the Privacy Shield and on all other adequacy schemes could only manifest in the context of a challenge of such transfer instruments before the CJEU. The seriousness with which the Court of Justice detailed all conditions that must be met by a legislative measure providing for a particular processing of personal data to be compliant with the fundamental rights to private life and to the protection of personal data strengthen the condition of “essentially equivalence”.

In other words, it will be difficult to convince the Court that a third country that allows collection of metadata (and all the more so content of communications) on a large scale and access to that data which is not made under the supervision of an independent authority, provides an adequate level of protection that would lawfully allow transfers of data from the EU to that third country. (For comparison, the CJEU referred to the Digital Rights Ireland case for 8 times and in key findings in its judgment in Schrems).

As for PNR schemes, the effects may come sooner and more directly, as we are waiting for the Court’s Opinion in Avis 1/15 on the compliance of the EU-PNR Canada agreement with fundamental rights. It is to be expected that the Court will copiously refer back to its new list of conditions for access by authorities to retained personal data when looking at how all PNR data is directly transferred by companies to law enforcement authorities in a third country, with no limitations.

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Even if post Brexit-UK adopts the GDPR, it will be left without its “heart”

Gabriela Zanfir Fortuna

brexit

There has been lately a wave of optimism of those looking for legal certainty that the GDPR will be adopted by the UK even after the country leaves the European Union. This wave was prompted by a declaration of the British Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, at the end of October, when she stated before a Committee of the Parliament that “We will be members of the EU in 2018 and therefore it would be expected and quite normal for us to opt into the GDPR and then look later at how best we might be able to help British business with data protection while maintaining high levels of protection for members of the publicThe information commissioner of the UK, Elisabeth Denham, welcomed the news. On another hand, as Amberhawk explained in detail, this will not mean that the UK will automatically be considered as ensuring an adequate level of protection.

The truth is that as long as the UK is still a Member of the EU, it can’t opt in or opt out, for that matter, from regulations (other than the ones subject to the exemptions negotiated by the UK when it entered the Union – but this is not the case for the GDPR). They are “binding in their entirety” and “directly applicable”, according to Article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. So, yes, quite normally, if the UK is still a Member State of the EU on 25 May 2018, then the GDPR will start applying in the UK just as it will be applying in Estonia or France.

The fate of the GDPR after Brexit becomes effective will be as uncertain as the fate of all other EU legislative acts transposed in the UK or directly applicable in the UK. But let’s imagine the GDPR will remain national law after Brexit, in a form or another. If this happens, it is likely that it will take a life of its own, departing from harmonised application throughout the EU. First and foremost, the GDPR in the UK will not be applied in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and especially its Article 8 – the right to the protection of personal data. The Charter played an extraordinary role in the strengthening of data protection in the EU after it became binding, in 2009, being invoked by the Court of Justice of the EU in its landmark judgments – Google v Spain,  Digital Rights Ireland and Schrems.

The Court held as far back as 2003 that “the provisions of Directive 95/46, in so far as they govern the processing of personal data liable to infringe fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to privacy, must necessarily be interpreted in the light of fundamental rights” (Österreichischer Rundfunk, para 68). This principle was repeated in most of the following cases interpreting Directive 95/46 and other relevant secondary law for this field, perhaps with the most notable results in Digital Rights Ireland and Schrems. 

See, for instance:

“As far as concerns the rules relating to the security and protection of data retained by providers of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks, it must be held that Directive 2006/24 does not provide for sufficient safeguards, as required by Article 8 of the Charter, to ensure effective protection of the data retained against the risk of abuse and against any unlawful access and use of that data” (Digital Rights Ireland, para. 66).

“As regards the level of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms that is guaranteed within the European Union, EU legislation involving interference with the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter must, according to the Court’s settled case-law, lay down clear and precise rules governing the scope and application of a measure and imposing minimum safeguards, so that the persons whose personal data is concerned have sufficient guarantees enabling their data to be effectively protected against the risk of abuse and against any unlawful access and use of that data. The need for such safeguards is all the greater where personal data is subjected to automatic processing and where there is a significant risk of unlawful access to that data” (Schrems, para. 91).

Applying data protection law outside the spectrum of fundamental rights will most likely not ensure sufficient protection to the person. While the UK will still remain under the legal effect of the European Convention of Human Rights and its Article 8 – respect for private life – this by far does not equate to the specific protection ensured to personal data by Article 8 of the Charter as interpreted and applied by the CJEU.

Not only the Charter will not be binding for the UK post-Brexit, but the Court of Justice of the EU will not have jurisdiction anymore on the UK territory (unless some sort of spectacular agreement is negotiated for Brexit). Moreover, EU law will not enjoy supremacy over national law, as there is the case right now. This means that the British data protection law will be able to depart from the European standard (GDPR) to the extent desirable by the legislature. For instance, there will be nothing staying in the way of the British legislature to adopt permissive exemptions to the rights of the data subject, pursuant to Article 23 GDPR.

So when I mentioned in the title that the GDPR in the post-Brexit UK will in any case be left without its “heart”, I was referring to its application and interpretation in the light of the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the EU.

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Interested in the GDPR? See the latest posts:

CNIL just published the results of their GDPR public consultation: what’s in store for DPOs and data portability? (Part I)

CNIL’s public consultation on the GDPR: what’s in store for Data Protection Impact Assessments and certification mechanisms? (Part II)

The GDPR already started to appear in CJEU’s soft case-law (AG Opinion in Manni)

Section 4. Innovative thinking: Article 8(2) + Article 52(1) = conditions for justification of interference with Article 8(1) Charter

(Section 4 of the Analysis of the AG Opinion in the “PNR Canada” Case: unlocking an “unprecedented and delicate” matter)

After establishing that the EU-Canada PNR Agreement allows for a particularly serious interference with the rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data, the AG goes on to analyze whether this interference is justified.

First, he establishes that neither of the two rights “is an absolute prerogative” (§181), meaning that their exercise can be limited. The AG recalls that “that limitations may be placed on the exercise of rights such as those enshrined in Article 7 and Article 8(1) of the Charter, provided that those limitations are provided for by law, that they respect the essence of those rights and that, subject to the principle of proportionality, they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others” (§182).

Again, just like in §170, the AG refers only to limitations of the first paragraph of Article 8. Moreover, he specifies in the following paragraph that “Article 8(2) of the Charter permits the processing of personal data ‘for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law’” (§183). He follows this only by stating that “with regard to one of the conditions set out in Article 8(2) of the Charter … the agreement envisaged does not seek to base the processing of the PNR data communicated to the Canadian competent authority on the consent of the air passengers” (§184).

This is why paragraph 188 comes as a surprise, because, after finding the essence of the two rights is not touched (see below), the AG states that “It is therefore necessary to ascertain whether the other conditions of justification provided for in Article 8(2) of the Charter and those laid down in Article 52(1) thereof, which, moreover, overlap in part, are satisfied” (§188).  

To my knowledge, it is for the first time an Advocate General, or the Court for that matter, refers to the second paragraph of Article 8 of the Charter as prescribing “conditions for justification” of interferences with the right to the protection of personal data and equals them to those laid down in Article 52(1) of the Charter.

Such a hypothesis is not without merit from the outset, but it would need a more in depth justification than simply stating a couple of paragraphs above that Article 8(2) of the Charter only allows processing of data only for specified purposes and if it is based on consent or has another legitimate basis laid down by law. For instance, if indeed we were to consider that any processing of personal data constitutes an interference with Article 8 (this finding by the Court in DRI has some faults worthy of academic attention, but for the moment we have to work with it), then it would make sense to see the conditions for having a lawful basis for processing as being conditions for justifying the “interference” with the right to the protection of personal data.

Moreover, a separate analysis of whether the conditions in Article 8(2) are satisfied does not follow. The AG merely states in §189 that the conditions from Article 52(1) for the interference to be provided for by law and to meet objectives of general interest are equivalent with the “expression used in Article 8(2)” – having a “legitimate basis”, and they are “manifestly satisfied” (§189).

As for the essence of the two rights, the AG recalls that neither of the parties did not invoke before the Court that the interference harms the essence of the two fundamental rights (§185).

With regard to the essence of Article 7, he further explains that “the nature of the PNR data forming the subject matter of the agreement envisaged does not permit any precise conclusions to be drawn as regards the essence of the private life of the persons concerned. The data in question continues to be limited to the pattern of air travel between Canada and the Union” (§186). The AG also refers in this context to the “masking” and gradual “depersonalization” of the data as guarantees to preserve private life (§186).

With regard to the essence of Article 8, the AG mentions that “under Article 9 of the agreement envisaged, Canada is required, in particular, to ‘ensure compliance verification and the protection, security, confidentiality and integrity of the data’, and also to implement ‘regulatory, procedural or technical measures to protect PNR data against accidental, unlawful or unauthorised access, processing or loss’. In addition, any breach of data security must be amenable to effective and dissuasive corrective measures which might include sanctions” (§187). Unfortunately, the AG does not expand on the concept of the essence of the right to the protection of personal data and does not depart from what the Court indicated in Digital Rights Ireland at §40, restricting the essence of Article 8 mainly to the presence of data security measures.

Concluding that the essence of the two rights is not touched upon, the AG further analyzes the proportionality and the necessity of the interference.