German Constitutional Court restricts data retention

The German Constitutional Court has, in an interim ruling (German only), restricted the use of data retention pending a full trial to decide on the constitutionality of the law. The German law is being challenged in an action coordinated by the civil rights group Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (German Working Group on Data Retention), on behalf of over 30,000 citizens. That action had sought to have the court restrain any implementation of the law until a full hearing. The decision of the court recognises that data retention poses a significant threat to privacy. From Bloomberg:

“The data retention affects almost all citizens whenever they use telecommunication facilities, so that sensitive information about practically everybody is open to the government,” the judges wrote. This “threat to the trust in the privacy of telecommunication as a whole” must be restricted as long as the law hasn’t been finally cleared, the court said.

Consequently the court partially granted the request of the plaintiffs to restrain implementation of the law. The effect of this interim decision is that although telecommunication companies must still store the information required by the law, they may not use the data or allow any other person to access the data, while the police may only access this data in relation to particularly serious crimes and where they can demonstrate that the information sought is necessary and could not be obtained by any other means.

Although only a provisional ruling, this is nevertheless extremely helpful for our own data retention case.