Government may not store telecoms data, says Constitutional Court

Summary

The court has ruled that the threat to privacy is not outweighed by the purpose of a law that gave police and intelligence services access to customer communications data

Law struck down

A Belgian law that obliges internet service providers and telecom companies to store data on customer communications has been struck down by the Constitutional Court. The action against the data retention law was filed by the League for Human Rights and the French-speaking bar council.

The law dates from 2013 and is a translation of a European Union directive from 2006. That measure aimed to standardise the way telecoms providers stored data for use in the fight against terrorism and serious crime.

The law concerns metadata: not the content of a telephone conversation, for example, but the details of who called whom, from where and for how long. In the case of internet traffic, it concerns the email and IP addresses of both parties, the devices used and their location.

The law obliged telecoms providers – Proximus and Telenet being the largest – to retain all such data for a year, in the event of a request from intelligence services or police.

The court, however, decided that the threat to privacy was not outweighed by the purpose of the law. In its ruling, it referenced decisions taken along the same lines in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as by the European Court of Justice.

The government has not responded but is likely to amend the law to take account of the court’s objections. How quickly that can be achieved is important: Telecoms companies retain metadata for a time for purposes such as billing.

Photo courtesy Proximus

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