Germany taken to court for failing to implement data retention

A German Pirate Party representative says the move is 'absolutely ridiculous'

European authorities have taken Germany to court for failing to implement the E.U. Data Retention Directive.

The European Commission announced on Thursday that it wants the European Court of Justice to impose a fine of just over €315,000 (US$391,866) a day. The news comes after Germany failed to respond to a warning in March.

The Data Retention Directive requires telephone companies and ISPs to store huge amounts of telecommunications information, including data about email, phone calls and text messages, for law enforcement purposes.

The directive was originally adopted in Germany in 2008, but was annulled by the German Constitutional Court amid privacy concerns in 2010. Since then, the European Commission has pushed for it to be reinstated, while German data-protection commissioners refuse, describing it as an invasion of privacy.

The decision to take Germany to court is "absolutely ridiculous," said German member of the European Parliament Christian Engstrom, of the Pirate Party. "They have made a preliminary evaluation of the Data Retention Directive and found with lots and lots of problems with it. I think this shows that Commissioner Malmstrom is driven only by prestige and common sense is not in her vocabulary."

However, the Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom claimed that none of the German court's conclusions preclude full transposition of the directive in a way that complies with the national constitution. Meanwhile, privacy activists said that the Commission has not shown that blanket retention of data is necessary. A German study found that data retention had only helped in 0.002 percent of criminal cases.

The Commission also reiterated that the so-called "quick freeze" method of data preservation, which is currently being discussed in Germany, would not suffice. Germany's Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, proposed the idea in March: instead of storing all users' data for six months, data could be stored only after a court order based on probable cause. Then, with further judicial oversight, that data could be "unfrozen" and be given to investigators and law enforcement.

On Thursday the Commission also formally closed proceedings against Austria, which has now fully implemented the directive, but is still seeking a lump sum payment from Sweden, which it believes unduly delayed introducing the required measures into national law.

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