Insights & Analyses

Europe’s highest court restricts retention of user data, in potential blow to UK ‘Snooper’s Charter’

December 21, 2016

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has potentially struck down one of the most controversial elements of the U.K.’s so-called “Snooper’s Charter,” saying it is illegal to retain citizen emails and browsing data without a specific purpose.

The decision could prove to be a major blow to Britain’s Investigatory Powers Act, which privacy advocates have dubbed the “Snooper’s Charter.” The internet surveillance law was approved by legislators in the U.K. last month.

The act has been described by critics as among the most aggressive anti-privacy laws in the world. It would require internet service providers to retain information about customers’ online activities, including retaining every customer’s top-level web activity and email for up to a year, with numerous government departments able to access the information.

The new ruling Europe’s highest court actually applies to the predecessor of the Investigatory Powers Act, known as the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, from 2014. According to The Guardian, the determination that “general and indiscriminate retention” of browsing data and emails is illegal could trigger serious challenges to the Investigatory Powers Act, which is set to take effect at the end of this month.

The European Court of Justice ruled that blanket collection of citizen internet activity “exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered justified within a democratic society.”

The court affirmed that targeted collection of data, including web activities and location, should only be used to combat serious crime, including terrorism.

It remains unknown whether the court’s decision will have any effect on U.K. law. Britain is in the process of withdrawing from the European Union, which would mean the European Court of Justice would no longer have judicial authority.