A helpful ECHR decision for our data retention case – Copland v. UK

The European Court of Human rights gave a decision earlier this month in Copland v. UK which will be very helpful to us in arguing our data retention case. Ms. Copland worked in a Welsh college as a personal assistant, and discovered that the college was secretly monitoring her telephone, email and internet use. She claimed that this amounted to a breach of her right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK government admitted that monitoring took place, but claimed (using the same arguments trotted out in the data retention context) that this did not amount to an interference where there was no actual listening in on telephone calls or reading of emails:

Although there had been some monitoring of the applicant’s telephone calls, e-mails and internet usage … this did not extend to the interception of telephone calls or the analysis of the content of websites visited by her. The monitoring thus amounted to nothing more than the analysis of automatically generated information … which, of itself, did not constitute a failure to respect private life or correspondence.

The Court disagreed, holding that this monitoring and storage of details of telephone and internet use was itself an interference under Article 8:

43. The Court recalls that the use of information relating to the date and length of telephone conversations and in particular the numbers dialled can give rise to an issue under Article 8 as such information constitutes an “integral element of the communications made by telephone” (see Malone v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 2 August 1984, Series A no. 82, § 84). The mere fact that these data may have been legitimately obtained by the College, in the form of telephone bills, is no bar to finding an interference with rights guaranteed under Article 8 (ibid). Moreover, storing of personal data relating to the private life of an individual also falls within the application of Article 8 § 1 (see Amann, cited above, § 65). Thus, it is irrelevant that the data held by the college were not disclosed or used against the applicant in disciplinary or other proceedings.

44. Accordingly, the Court considers that the collection and storage of personal information relating to the applicant’s telephone, as well as to her e-mail and internet usage, without her knowledge, amounted to an interference with her right to respect for her private life and correspondence within the meaning of Article 8. (emphasis added)

Although these principles aren’t new, it’s still useful to have them so clearly restated in a way which is directly applicable to data retention under both Irish and European law.

(Many thanks to Daithí for bringing this to our attention.)