TELE2 SVERIGE AB AND WATSON ET AL: CONTINUITY AND …RADICAL CHANGE

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG  (JANUARY 12, 2017)
By Orla Lynskey

 

Introduction

The CJEU delivered its judgment in Tele2 Sverige AB and Watson on 21 December 2016. The Court had been asked by a Swedish and British court respectively to consider the scope and effect of its previous judgment in Digital Rights Ireland (discussed here). The judgment reflects continuity in so far as it follows in the line of this, and earlier judgments taking a strong stance on data protection and privacy. Yet, the degree of protection it offers these rights over competing interests, notably security, is radical. In particular, the Court unequivocally states that legislation providing for general and indiscriminate data retention is incompatible with the E-Privacy Directive, as read in light of the relevant EU Charter rights. While the judgment was delivered in the context of the E-Privacy Directive, the Court’s reasoning could equally apply to other EU secondary legislation or programmes interpreted in light of the Charter. This judgment will be a game-changer for state surveillance in Europe and while it offered an early Christmas gift to privacy campaigners, it is likely to receive a very mixed reaction from EU Member States as such. While national data retention legislation has been annulled across multiple Member States (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany and Romania), this annulment has been based on an assessment of the proportionality of the relevant measures rather than on a finding that blanket retention is per se unlawful. For those familiar with the facts and findings, skip straight to the comment below.

Facts

The preliminary ruling stems from two Article 267 TFEU references regarding the interpretation of the Court’s judgment in Digital Rights Ireland (henceforth DRI). The first, Tele2 Sverige AB, was a Swedish reference resulting from the refusal by Tele2 Sverige (a Swedish electronic communications provider) to continue to retain electronic communications data following the finding in DRI that the Data Retention Directive was invalid. A dispute regarding the interpretation of DRI ensued and the Swedish Justice Minister commissioned a report to assess the compatibility of Swedish law with EU law and the ECHR. This report concluded that DRI could not be interpreted as prohibiting general and indiscriminate data retention as a matter of principle, or as establishing criteria – all of which must be fulfilled – in order for legislation to be deemed proportionate. Rather, it held that it was necessary to conduct an assessment of all the circumstances in order to determine the compatibility of Swedish legislation with EU law. Tele2 Sverige maintained that the report was based on a misinterpretation of DRI. Given these differing perspectives, the referring court asked the Court to give ‘an unequivocal ruling on whether…the general and indiscriminate retention of electronic communications data is per se incompatible with Articles 7 and 8 and 52(1) of the Charter’ [50].

The second preliminary reference (Watson) arose before the Court of Appeal in the context of applications for judicial review of the UK’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) on the grounds that this Act was incompatible with the EU Charter and the ECHR. It was disputed before the national court whether DRI laid down ‘mandatory requirements of EU law’ that national legislation for communications data retention and access must respect. The domestic referring court suggested that it was appropriate to distinguish between legislation governing retention, and legislation governing access. DRI was confined to an assessment of the former as it assessed the validity of the Data Retention Directive, which excluded provisions relating to data access. The latter, provisions on data access, must be subject to a distinct validity assessment in light of their differing context and objectives, according to the referring court. The Court of Appeal did not however deem the answer to this question obvious, given that six courts in other EU Member States had declared national legislation to be invalid on the basis of DRI. It therefore asked the Court to consider whether, firstly, DRI lays down mandatory requirements of EU law that would apply to the regime governing access to retained data at national level. It also asked whether DRI expands the scope of the Charter rights to data protection and privacy beyond the scope of Article 8 ECHR. The Watson reference was dealt with pursuant to the expedited procedure provided for in Article 105(1) of the Court’s Rules of Procedure and joined to the Tele2 Sverige reference for oral arguments and judgment.

Findings of the Court

The Scope of the E-Privacy Directive

The Court examined, as a preliminary point, whether national legislation on retention and access to data fell within the scope of the E-Privacy Directive. Article 15(1) of that Directive provides for restrictions to certain rights it provides for when necessary for purposes such as national security and the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences. Article 15(1) also allows for the adoption of data retention legislation by Member States. However, Article 1(3) of that Directive states that the Directive will not apply to, amongst others, ‘activities concerning public security, defence, State security (…) and the activities of the State in areas of criminal law’. There is thus an apparent internal inconsistency within the Directive.

To guide its findings, the Court had regard to the general structure of the Directive. While the Court acknowledged that the objectives pursued by Articles 1(3) and 15(1) overlap substantially, it held that Article 15(1) of the Directive would be deprived of any purpose if the legislative measures it permits were excluded from the scope of the Directive on the basis of Article 1(3) [73]. Indeed, it held that Article 15(1) ‘necessarily presupposes’ that the national measures referred to therein fall within the scope of that directive ‘since it expressly authorizes the Member States to adopt them only if the conditions laid down in the directive are met’. [73]. In order to support this finding, the Court suggests that the legislative measures provided for in Article 15(1) apply to providers of electronic communications services [74] and extend to measures requiring data retention [75] and access to retained data by national authorities [76]. It justifies this final claim – that the E-Privacy Directive includes data access legislation – on the (weak) grounds that recital 21 of the directive stipulates that the directive’s aim is to protect confidentiality by preventing unauthorised access to communications, including ‘any data related to such communications’ [77]. The Court emphasises that provisions on data access must fall within the scope of the Directive as data is only retained for the purpose of access to it by competent national authorities and thus national data retention legislation ‘necessarily entails, in principle, the existence of provisions relating to access by the competent national authorities to the data retained’ [79]. The Court also noted that the Directive requires providers to establish internal procedures for responding to requests for access based on the relevant provisions of national law [80].

The compatibility of ‘general and indiscriminate’ data retention with EU law

The Court then moved on to consider the most important substantive point in the judgment: the compatibility of ‘general and indiscriminate’ data retention with the relevant provisions of EU law. It began by recalling that the E-Privacy Directive’s overarching aim is to offer users of electronic communications services protection against the risks to fundamental rights brought about by technological advances [83]. It emphasised, in particular, the general principle of confidentiality of communications in Article 5(1) of the Directive and the related safeguards for traffic data and location data (in Articles 6 and 9 respectively), [85-87]. While the Court acknowledged that Article 15(1) of the Directive allows for exceptions to these principles by restricting their scope, it held that this provision must be interpreted strictly. It clearly stated that Article 15(1) cannot permit the exception to the Directive’s confidentiality obligation to become the rule, as this would render the confidentiality obligation meaningless [89].

The Court also emphasised that according to Article 15(1)’s wording it must be interpreted in light of general principles of EU law, thus including the fundamental rights in the EU Charter [91]. The Court noted, with reference to its previous case-law, the importance of the fundamental rights engaged in the current context, namely the right to privacy (Article 7), the right to data protection (Article 8) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 11) ([92]-[93]). The limitations on the exercise of these Charter rights are echoed in the E-Privacy Directive, recital 11 of which states that measures derogating from its principles must be ‘strictly’ proportionate to the intended purpose, while Article 15(1) itself specifies that data retention should be ‘justified’ by reference to one of the  objectives stated in Article 15(1) and be for a ‘limited period’ [95]. In considering whether national legislation complies with these requirements of strict necessity, the Court observed that ‘the legislation provides for a general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication’ and that the retention obligation on providers is ‘to retain the data systematically and continuously, with no exceptions’ [97].

Having established the scope of the retention obligation, the Court emphasised the revealing nature of this data and recalled its finding in DRI that the data ‘taken as a whole, is liable to allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained’ [98]. The Court also stated that the data provides the means of profiling the individual concerned and – importantly – that the information is ‘no less sensitive having regard to the right to privacy, than the actual content of the communications’ [99]. The Court held that general and indiscriminate data retention legislation entailed a particularly serious interference with the rights to privacy and data protection and that the user concerned is, as a result, likely to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance [100]. It could also, according to the Court, affect the use of means of electronic communication and thus the exercise by users of their freedom of expression [101]. The Court therefore held that only the objective of fighting serious crime could justify national data retention legislation [102].

While the Court acknowledged that the fight against serious crime may depend on modern investigative techniques for its effectiveness, this objective cannot in itself justify the finding that general and indiscriminate data retention legislation is necessary for this fight against crime [103]. It noted in particular that such legislation applies to persons for whom ‘there is no evidence capable of suggesting that their conduct might have a link, even an indirect or remote one, with serious criminal offences’ and that no exception is made for those whose communications are subject to professional secrecy [106]. As a result of these failings, the Court held that the national legislation exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered justified under Article 15(1), read in light of the Charter [107].

The Court did not go so far as to deem all data retention unlawful however. It highlighted that Article 15(1) does not prevent a Member State from introducing legislation that would facilitate targeted retention of traffic and location data for the preventive purpose of fighting serious crime. Such legislation must however be limited to what is strictly necessary in terms of the categories of data retained; the means of communication affected, the persons and the period of time concerned [108]. In particular, such legislation should indicate ‘in what circumstances and under which conditions’ a data retention measure could be adopted as a preventive measure [109]. The Court also emphasised that while the precise contours may vary, data retention should meet objective criteria that establish a connection between the data to be retained and the objective pursued [110]. The national legislation must therefore be evidence-based: this objective evidence should make it possible to ‘identify a public whose data is likely to reveal a link, at least an indirect one, with serious criminal offences’ [111].

Mandatory Requirements of DRI?

Having established the incompatibility of generalised data retention legislation with EU law, the Court then went on to consider whether EU law precludes national data retention and access legislation if that legislation:

  • does not restrict access solely to the objective of fighting serious crime;
  • does not require access to be subject to prior review by a court or independent body
  • and, if it does not require that the data should be retained within the EU [114].

The Court reiterated an early finding that access to retained data must be for one of the exhaustive objectives identified in Article 15(1) of the E-Privacy Directive, and that only the objective of fighting serious crime would justify access to retained data [115]. Such legislation must also set out clear and precise rules indicating when and how competent national authorities should be granted access to such data [117]. The Court also held that national legislation must set out the substantive and procedural conditions governing access based on objective criteria [118-119]. Such access can, ‘as a general rule’ be granted only ‘to the data of individuals suspected of planning, committing or having committed a serious crime or of being implicated in one way or another in such a crime’ [119]. Access to the data of others might exceptionally be granted where, for instance, vital national interests are threatened by terrorist activities, if there is objective evidence to reflect the effective contribution access to such data could make [119]. As a result, access to retained data should, with the exception of cases of validly established urgency, be subject to a prior review by a court or an independent administrative authority at the request of the competent national authorities [120]. These competent national authorities must also notify the persons affected by the data access, under the applicable national procedures, as soon as such notification no longer jeopardises the investigations. The Court highlighted that such notice is necessary to enable these individuals to exercise their right to a legal remedy pursuant to the Directive and EU data protection law [121].

On the issue of data security, the Court held that Article 15(1) does not allow Member States to derogate from the Directive’s data security provisions, which require providers to take appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure the effective protection of retained data. The Court held that a particularly high level of data security was appropriate given the quantity and nature of the data retained and the riskiness of this operation. It therefore held that the national legislation must provide for the data to be retained within the EU, and for the irreversible destruction of the data at the end of the data retention period [122]. Member States must also ensure that an independent authority reviews compliance with EU law, as such independent control of data protection compliance is an essential element of the right to data protection set out in Article 8(3) Charter. The Court emphasised the link between such independent supervision and the availability of a legal remedy for data subjects [123]. The Court therefore concluded that national legislation that did not comply with these conditions would be precluded pursuant to Article 15(1) as read in light of the Charter [125]. However, it was for the relevant national courts to examine whether such conditions were satisfied in the present case [124].

Finally, in relation to the UK Court of Appeal’s query regarding the relationship between the EU Charter rights to data protection and privacy and Article 8 ECHR, the Court held that the answer to this question would not affect the interpretation of the E-Privacy Directive and thus matter in these proceedings [131]. It recalled its settled case-law that the preliminary reference procedure serves the purpose of effectively resolving EU law disputes rather than providing advisory opinions or answering hypothetical questions [130]. This did not however prevent it from offering a sneak preview of its thinking on this matter. It emphasised that, while the EU has not acceded to the ECHR, the ECHR does not constitute a formally incorporated element of EU law. It did however note that Article 52(3) seeks to ensure consistency between the Charter and the ECHR without adversely affecting the autonomy of EU law. EU law is not therefore precluded from providing more extensive protection than the ECHR. The Court added that Article 8 of the Charter concerns a fundamental right which is distinct from that enshrined in Article 7 and which has no equivalent in the ECHR. Therefore, while the Court did not answer the question of which offered a wider scope of protection, it did confirm the distinctiveness of these two rights.

Comment

The Tele2 judgment represents a rupture with the past in one very significant way: the Court, for the first time, unequivocally states that blanket data retention measures are incompatible with EU law, read in light of the Charter. This radical finding is likely to receive a mixed reaction. For instance, in the UK some will lament that this judgment comes too late to have influenced the passage into law of the UK’s new data retention legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act, 2016. This legislation – which allows for bulk interception and hacking, amongst other things – should now be found to be incompatible with EU law, with all of the post-Brexit implications for ‘adequacy’ this may entail (also here). Others, such as the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation – David Anderson QC – have expressed regret. Anderson QC suggests that:

‘Precisely because suspects are often not known in advance, data retention which is not universal in its scope is bound to be less effective as a crime reduction measure.  In addition, a person whose data has not been retained cannot be exonerated by use of that data (e.g. by using location data to show that the person was elsewhere).’

The Advocate General (here; and commentary here) had similarly noted that data retention could help competent authorities ‘examine the past’ [AG, 178]. He had refused to declare general retention measures per se unlawful, preferring instead to assess the compatibility of data retention legislation against strict proportionality requirements [AG, 116]. His approach could therefore be said to be more nuanced and systematic than that of the Court. While examining proportionality stricto sensu he concluded that it would be for national courts to weigh the benefit of ‘examining the past’ with the potential it would provide for authorities to abuse this power by using metadata to catalogue entire populations, noting that evidence of abuses had been put before the Court [AG, 259-260]. This evidence before the Court might help to refute the critique that the Court should have focused on the actual harm of communications metadata retention ‘and sought to avoid assertions based on theory or informal predictions of popular feeling’.

Blanket retention was not the only important point on which the Court and the Advocate General departed. The Advocate General explicitly claimed that DRI set out mandatory requirements [AG, 221] while the Court did not. The Advocate General was also more stringent than the Court by requiring that data is retained in the relevant Member State [AG, 241] while the Court opted for the marginally more realistic requirement that data is retained in the EU. The Advocate General did not, however, consider Article 15(1) a derogation to the E-Privacy Directive (and therefore not a provision that required strict interpretation). The Court did not however engage with his elaborate reasoning on this point [AG, 106-115]. The Court did however confirm that competent national authorities must notify persons affected by data access as soon as such notification no longer jeopardises the investigation [121]. This significant procedural right is likely to play an important role in acting as a check on abusive access requests.

Perhaps the only fly in the ointment for the digital rights groups that intervened before the Court is the Court’s seemingly uncritical endorsement of geographic and group profiling. It does this when it emphasises that there should be relationship between the data retained and the threat, for instance when the data pertains to a ‘geographic area’ [108]. The ethical and social issues such profiling may entail would require further consideration. The Court appears to recognise this by suggesting that such profiling would need to be strictly evidence-based ([111]). Should generalised retention measures be replaced by ad hoc location-based retention measures, the legality of the latter would itself be the subject of much controversy.

Verfassungsblog :The Hungarian Constitutional Court and Constitutional Identity

 ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE

by 

  1. Independently from this procedure, the Hungarian government, right after its Slovakian counterparts’ submission also challenged the quota decision before the European Court of Justice. This procedure is still pending, but the ECJ in its decision won’t take into account neither the text of the Hungarian constitution, nor the domestically binding interpretation of it by the Constitutional Court.
  2. Case C-208/09, Sayn-Wittgenstein, para 86.
  3. See for instance Case C-135/08, Janko Rottmann (2009) OJ C 113, 1.5.2010.
  4. See these matters mentioned in P. Faraguna, ’Taking Constitutional Identities Away from the Courts’, Brook. J. Int’l L. Vol. 41:2. 2016. 491, at 506-508.
  5. In May 2015, a few days after many hundreds of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Viktor Orbán announced that ‘We need no refugees’.
  6.  Some critics of the historical constitution even raise the possibility that the Court might consider the Hungarian Jewish laws, first of such acts in Europe outside of Germany, as part of it.
  7.  See I. Császár, B. Majtényi, ’Hungary: The Historic Constitution as the Place of Memory’, M. Suksi, K. Agapiou-Josephides, J-P. Lehners, M. Nowak (eds.) First Fundamental Rights Documents in Europe, Cambridge: Intersentia, 2015. 57-69.

 

Threat to Human Rights? The new e-Privacy Regulation and some thoughts on Tele2 and Watson

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Matthew White, Ph.D candidate, Sheffield Hallam University

Introduction

In a follow-up to last Christmas’s post, on 10 January 2017, the European Commission released the official version of the proposed Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications (e-Privacy Regs). Just as the last post concerned the particular aspect of data retention, this post will too.

Just as the former leaked version maintained, the proposal does not include any specific provisions in the field of data retention (para 1.3). This paragraph continues that Member States are free to keep or create national data retention laws, provided that they are ‘targeted’ and that they comply with European Union (EU) taking into account the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and its interpretation of the e-Privacy Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR). Regarding the CJEU’s interpretation, the proposals specifically refers to Joined Cases C-293/12 and C-594/12 Digital Rights Ireland and Seitlinger and Others, and Joined Cases C-203/15 and C-698/15 Tele2 Sverige AB and Secretary of State for the Home Department. Aspects of the latter case is the focus of this post; the case itself has been thoroughly discussed by Professor Lorna Woods.

So, when is the essence of the right adversely affected?

Before discussing certain aspects of Tele2 and Watson, it is first important to draw attention to the provision which enables data retention in the new e-Privacy Regs. Article 11 allows the EU or its Member States to restrict the rights contained in Articles 5-8 (confidentiality of communications, permissions on processing, storage and erasure of electronic communications data and protection of information stored in and related to end-users’ terminal equipment). From Article 11, it is clear that this can include data retention obligations, so long as they respect the essence of the right and are necessary, appropriate and proportionate. In Tele2 and Watson the CJEU noted that any limitation of rights recognised by the CFR must respect the essence of said rights [94]. The CJEU accepted the Advocate General (AG)’s Opinion that data retention creates an equally serious interference as interception and that the risks associated with the access to communications maybe greater than access to the content of communications [99]. Yet the CJEU were reluctant to hold that data retention (and access to) adversely affects the essence of those rights [101]. This appears to highlight a problem in the CJEU’s reasoning, if the CJEU, like the AG accept that retention of and access to communications data is at least on par with access to the content, it makes little sense to then be reluctant to hold that data retention adversely affects the essence of those rights. The CJEU does so without making any distinction or reasoning for this differential treatment, and thus serves to highlight that perhaps the CJEU themselves do not fully respect the essence of those rights in the context of data retention.

The CJEU’s answer seems only limited catch all powers

The thrust of the CJEU’s judgment in Tele2 and Watson was that general and indiscriminate data retention obligations are prohibited at an EU level. But as I have highlighted previously, the CJEU’s answer was only in response to a very broad question from Sweden, which asked was:

[A] general obligation to retain traffic data covering all persons, all means of electronic communication and all traffic data without any distinctions, limitations or exceptions for the purpose of combating crime…compatible with [EU law]?

Therefore, provided that national laws do not provide for the capturing of all data of all subscribers and users for all services in one fell swoop, this may be argued to be compatible with EU law. Both the e-Privacy Regs and the CJEU refer to ‘targeted’ retention [108, 113]. The CJEU gave an example of geographical criterions for retention in which David Anderson Q.C. asks whether the CJEU meant that ‘it could be acceptable to perform “general and indiscriminate retention” of data generated by persons living in a particular town, or housing estate, whereas it would not be acceptable to retain the data of persons living elsewhere? This is entirely possible given the reference from Sweden and the answer from the CJEU. In essence the CJEU have permitted discriminatory general and indiscriminate data retention which would in any event respect the essence of those rights.

Data retention is our cake, and only we can eat it

A final point on Tele2 and Watson was that the CJEU held that national laws on data retention are within the scope of EU law [81]. This by itself may not raise any concerns about protecting fundamental rights, but it is what the CJEU rules later on in the judgment that may be of concern. The CJEU held that the interpretation of the e-Privacy Directive (and therefore national Member State data retention laws) “must be undertaken solely in the light of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter” [128]. The CJEU has seemingly given itself exclusive competence to determine how rights are best protected in the field of data retention. It is clear from the subsequent paragraph that the CJEU seeks to protect the autonomy of EU law above anything else, even fundamental rights [129]. This is despite the ECHR forming general principles of EU law and is mentioned in Article 15(1) (refers Article 6(3) of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) specifically referring to the ECHR as such). Article 11 of the e-Privacy Regs refers to restrictions respecting the ‘essence of fundamental rights and freedoms’ and only time will tell whether the CJEU would interpret this as only referring to the CFR. Recital 27 of the e-Privacy Regs just like Recital 10 and 30 of the e-Privacy Directive refers to compliance with the ECHR, but as highlighted previously, Recitals are not legally binding.

Is the CJEU assuming too much?

A further concern, is that had the European Commission added general principles of EU law into Article 11, the CJEU may simply have ignored it, just as it has done in Tele2 and Watson. The problem with the CJEU’s approach is that it assumes that this judgment offers an adequate protection of human rights in this context. The ECHR has always been the minimum floor, but it appears the CJEU wants the CFR to be the ceiling whether it be national human rights protection, or protection guaranteed by the ECHR. What if that ceiling is lower than the floor? The AG in Tele2 and Watson stressed that the CFR must never be inferior to the ECHR [141]. But I have argued before, the EU jurisprudence on data retention is just that, offering inferior protection to the ECHR, and the qualification by the CJEU in Tele2 and Watson does not alter this. This position is strengthened by Judge Pinto De Albuquerque in his concurring opinion in the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Szabo. He believed that:

[M]andatory third-party data retention, whereby Governments require telephone companies and Internet service providers to store metadata about their customers’ communications and location for subsequent law-enforcement and intelligence agency access, appeared neither necessary nor proportionate [6].

Of course, Judge Pinto De Albuquerque could have been referring to the type of third party data retention which requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to intercept data from Over The Top (OTT) services, but his description is more in line with data retention of services’ own users and subscribers.

Conclusions

Although the CJEU has prohibited general indiscriminate data retention, the CJEU does not seem to have prevented targeted indiscriminate data retention. If the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) were to ever rule on data retention and follow its jurisprudence and the opinion of Judge Pinto De Albuquerque, this may put EU law in violation of the ECHR. This would ultimately put Member States in a damned if they do, damned if they do not situation, comply with the ECHR, and violate EU law autonomy; comply with EU law and violate the ECHR. When the minimum standards of human rights protection in this context are not adhered to, because of EU law, the ECHR should prevail. As anything less is a threat to human rights, meaning that the (even if well intentioned) CJEU can also be.

Expulsion of seriously ill migrants: a new ECtHR ruling reshapes ECHR and EU law

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Dr Lourdes Peroni*, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ghent University Human Rights Centre (ECHR aspects) and Professor Steve Peers (EU law aspects)

In what is possibly one of the most important judgments of 2016, Paposhvili v. Belgium, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has memorably reshaped its case law on when Article 3 ECHR (which bans torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment) applies to the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. In a unanimous judgment, the Court leaves behind the restrictive application of the high Article 3 threshold set in N. v. the United Kingdom and pushes for a more rigorous assessment of the risk of ill-treatment in these cases. For us at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, it was a thrill to intervene as a third party in such an important case. In our third party intervention we submitted that Paposhvili offered a unique opportunity to depart from the excessively restrictive approach adopted in N. We are delighted that the Grand Chamber has seized the opportunity to re-draw the standards in this area of its case law in a way that does fuller justice to the spirit of Article 3.

This main part of the post addresses the ECtHR’s interpretation of the ECHR in Paposhvili, while in the Annex to this post, Steve Peers considers its application within the scope of EU law.

The ECHR judgment

Mr. Paposhvili, a Georgian national living in Belgium, was seriously ill. He claimed that his expulsion to Georgia would put him at risk of inhuman treatment and an earlier death due to the withdrawal of the treatment he had been receiving in Belgium (for more on the facts, see my previous post). He died in Belgium last June, while his case was pending before the Grand Chamber. The Court did not strike his application out of the list. It found that “special circumstances relating to respect for human rights” required its continued examination based on Article 37 § 1 in fine ECHR (§ 133). The Court held that there would have been a violation of Article 3 if Belgium had expelled Mr. Paposhvili to Georgia without having assessed “the risk faced by him in the light of the information concerning his state of health and the existence of appropriate treatment in Georgia.” It found a similar violation of Article 8 if Belgium had expelled him without having assessed the impact of his return on his “right to respect for his family life in view of his state of health.”

Opening Up “Other Very Exceptional Cases”

The Chamber judgment in Paposhvili followed N. and Yoh-Ekale Mwanje v. Belgium where the Court had taken into account that “the applicants’ condition had been stable as a result of the treatment they had been receiving, that they were not ‘critically ill’ and that they were fit to travel” (§ 119). The Chamber thus concluded that though Mr. Paposhvili suffered from “a fatal and incurable disease … his conditions are all stable and under control at present; his life is therefore not in imminent danger and he is able to travel” (§ 120).

As readers might remember, the N. Grand Chamber established that removing a non-national suffering from a serious illness to “a country where the facilities for the treatment of that illness are inferior to those available in the Contracting State may raise an issue under Article 3, but only in a very exceptional case” (§ 42). The Grand Chamber concluded that the applicant’s circumstances in N. were not exceptional, as found in D. v. United Kingdom (§ 42). D was critically ill, close to death, and had no prospect of medical care and family support in his home country. The N. Grand Chamber, however, left a window open: it did not exclude that “there may be other very exceptional cases where the humanitarian considerations are equally compelling” (§ 43, emphasis added).

In our third party intervention, we argued that being medically stable and fit to travel as a result of the treatment received should not be a determining criterion in allowing an expulsion. We respectfully invited the Court to develop a less extreme approach, one that considered the difference between applicants’ suffering in the sending state and the suffering they would face in the receiving state. The aim, we submitted, should be to determine whether the reduction of applicants’ life expectancy and the deterioration of their quality of life would be such as to reach the level of severity required by Article 3. The applicant argued that his expulsion to Georgia would place him at risk of “a severe and rapid deterioration in his state of health leading to his swift and certain death” (§ 148). He asked the Court “to go beyond its findings in N. v. the United Kingdom” and to define “a realistic threshold of severity that was no longer confined to securing a ‘right to die with dignity’” (§ 149).

The Paposhvili Grand Chamber enters through the window N. left open. It notes that since N. no other “very exceptional cases” had been found (§ 178). It importantly recognizes that the application of Article 3 only to persons close to death has deprived those whose condition was less critical but who were still seriously ill from “the benefit of that provision” (§ 181). In a pivotal paragraph, the Grand Chamber considers

… that the “other very exceptional cases” within the meaning of the judgment in N. v. the United Kingdom (§ 43) which may raise an issue under Article 3 should be understood to refer to situations involving the removal of a seriously ill person in which substantial grounds have been shown for believing that he or she, although not at imminent risk of dying, would face a real risk, on account of the absence of appropriate treatment in the receiving country or the lack of access to such treatment, of being exposed to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in his or her state of health resulting in intense suffering or to a significant reduction in life expectancy. The Court points out that these situations correspond to a high threshold for the application of Article 3 of the Convention in cases concerning the removal of aliens suffering from serious illness (§ 183). Emphasis added.

This is a graceful move that softens the unduly restrictive approach that had so far been followed in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. Paposhvili thus comes to fill what Judge Lemmens calls a “gap in the protection against inhuman treatment” (concurring opinion in Paposhvili § 3) by including as exceptional more than just cases of imminent death. My first impression is that the Court does not formally leave behind N.’s exceptional character and the high threshold of Article 3 in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill non-nationals (see last sentence § 183 and Judge Lemmens’ opinion § 3). Rather, it appears to open up what in practice has resulted in a limited application of the high threshold. The commendable effect of the Court’s move is, in any event, a less extreme approach more compatible with the spirit of Article 3. Elements of both our third party intervention and the applicant’s arguments are reflected positively in the Grand Chamber reasoning in this regard.

Real Rather Than Theoretical Access to “Sufficient” and “Appropriate” Care

In our third party intervention we proposed that the risk assessment should consider the adequacy of the medical care available in the receiving state and the person’s actual access to such care. The question, we argued, is not just whether adequate treatment is generally available but, crucially, whether the available treatment would in reality be accessible to the person concerned. The applicant argued that the alleged Article 3 violation should be examined “in concreto,” taking into consideration, among other things, “the accessibility of treatment in the country of destination” (§ 139).

The Grand Chamber seizes the occasion to meticulously set out a range of procedural duties for the domestic authorities in the ECHR state parties. All these duties point in one clear direction: a more rigorous assessment of the risk as required by the absolute nature of the Article 3 prohibition (Saadi v. Italy § 128). In assessing the alleged risk of ill-treatment, the domestic authorities should verify whether the care available in the receiving state is “sufficient and appropriate in practice for the treatment of the applicant’s illness so as to prevent him or her being exposed to treatment contrary to Article 3” (§ 189, emphasis added). The domestic authorities should also consider “the extent to which the individual in question will actually have access to this care and these facilities in the receiving State” (§ 190, emphasis added). Referring to existing case law, the Court points to several factors to be taken into account: “cost of medication and treatment, the existence of a social and family network, and the distance to be travelled in order to have access to the required care” (§ 190).

Duty to Obtain Assurances from the Receiving State

With reference to Tarakhel (a 2014 ECtHR ruling on the application of the EU’s Dublin rules on allocation of asylum responsibility), our third party intervention proposed that Article 3 impose on the domestic authorities in the returning state the procedural duty to seek or obtain assurances from the receiving state that the person concerned would actually have access to the treatment s/he needed. We argued that access to appropriate medical care should not be a theoretical option, but a real and guaranteed one, and the burden of proving that such a real option exists should lie on the expelling state (on assurances and the benefits of adopting this path, see Eva Brems’ commentary on Tatar v. Switzerland).

On this point, the Grand Chamber states in paragraph 191:

Where, after the relevant information has been examined, serious doubts persist regarding the impact of removal on the persons concerned – on account of the general situation in the receiving country and/or their individual situation – the returning State must obtain individual and sufficient assurances from the receiving State, as a precondition for removal, that appropriate treatment will be available and accessible to the persons concerned so that they do not find themselves in a situation contrary to Article 3 (on the subject of individual assurances, see Tarakhel, cited above, § 120).

Conclusion

There is so much more to say about the Court’s reasoning in Paposhvili. I have highlighted some of its most remarkable Article 3 principles. Together with others, such as the one establishing when the responsibility of the returning state is engaged (§ 192), these principles firmly move a body of the Court’s case law closer to its principles on the absolute nature of the Article 3 prohibition.

*This part of the post is reblogged  from the Strasbourg Observers blog

Annex: the impact on EU law

By Professor Steve Peers

How does this judgment impact upon EU law?

First of all, it’s necessary to explain the existing EU law position, set in the Abdida and M’Bodj judgments of the ECJ, which was referred to in the ECtHR judgment (paras 120-22), and which I discussed further here. In short, ‘medical cases’ are not within the scope of EU asylum law, either as regards refugee status or subsidiary protection (M’Bodj). However, if the person concerned faces an expulsion order, then the Returns Directive applies. (Note that the latter Directive doesn’t apply to the UK, Ireland or Denmark.)

Although the Returns Directive was mainly intended to ensure removal of irregular migrants from the territory, in ‘medical cases’ (at least), as interpreted by the ECJ in Abdida, it has the opposite effect. According to the Court, the requirement in Article 5 of the Directive to ‘respect the principle of’ non-refoulement means that irregular migrants who fall outside the scope of EU asylum law but nevertheless face an Article 3 ECHR risk, as defined in the case law of the ECtHR, cannot be removed. Moreover, in further displays of legal alchemy, the ECJ ruled that the challenge to their removal must have suspensive effect, and they must receive the necessary health care and social benefits.

The ECJ has not developed this case law since, although further relevant cases are pending. In MP, the Court has been asked to clarify the line between asylum cases and medical cases, where the medical conditions are more directly linked to persecution or serious harm suffered in the country of origin. In Gnandi, it has been asked to clarify the suspensive effect of a legal challenge in medical cases, following a failed asylum application. In K.A. and others, the Court has been asked about the requirement to ‘take due account’ of family life in Article 5 of the Returns Directive; its ultimate ruling might be relevant to the ‘non-refoulement’ aspect of the same clause by analogy. Equally in Nianga the Court has been asked whether Article 5 applies to the decision to issue a return decision or removal order in the first place: a crucial point because if it does not apply, the person concerned might well fall outside the scope of EU law entirely.

What impact will the new ECtHR ruling have on the interpretation of EU law? First of all, there’s nothing to suggest it will, by itself, move the dividing line between asylum cases and medical cases, as applied by the ECJ. So we are still looking at the interpretation of the Returns Directive, if that Directive applies.

Since the ECJ committed itself to follow the case-law of the ECtHR as regards medical cases when interpreting the non-refoulement provision of the Returns Directive, it should follow that the new ECtHR ruling applies to the Directive too. Therefore this enlarges the group of people who can benefit from the specific provisions of EU law as interpreted by the ECJ, as regards suspensive effect of appeals and access to health care and social benefits.

Equally the ECtHR’s strong stress on the procedural elements of such cases logically applies by analogy to cases falling within the scope of the Returns Directive. While the ECJ in the Abdida judgment did not refer to its own jurisprudence on the right to a hearing for irregular migrants (discussed here), it is now necessary to update that approach in light of the ECtHR ruling, given the strong link which the latter judgment establishes between the procedural and substantive aspects of what I have referred to as ‘alternative protection’. The ECJ will have an opportunity to address this issue in the months to come, in the pending cases referred to above.

While the ECtHR judgment referred to a need to cooperate with the country of origin in order to check conditions there, in the EU context this might arguably in some cases entail by analogy a check on health conditions in another Member State, which would be responsible for that person under the Dublin rules. The ECJ has yet to determine how its interpretation of the Returns Directive in medical cases fits together with the application of the Dublin rules, which in principle apply if the person concerned has at one point applied for international protection (refugee status or subsidiary protection) within the EU. (Mr. Paposhvili was originally subject to the Dublin rules, but it seems that the plan to remove him to Italy pursuant to those rules petered out).

Finally, it should be noted that the ECtHR also found a breach of Article 8 ECHR (the right to family life), on similar procedural grounds. This might be relevant to interpretation of the EU’s family reunion Directive, for those who fall within the scope of that Directive and who argue on the basis of the factors to consider during expulsion proceedings pursuant to Articles 17 and 18 of that law.

New ECJ ruling on data retention: Preservation of civil rights even in difficult times!

Original published here on 22. Dezember 2016

by

Translation – German version see here.

The European Court of Justice has made a Christmas present to more than 500 million EU citizens. With its new judgment on data retention (C-203/15 of 21 December 2016) – the highest court of the European Union stresses the importance of fundamental rights. All Member States are required to respect the rights represented in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in their national legislation. The ECJ issued an important signal that can hardly be surmounted taking into account the current political discussions on internal and external threats and the strengthening of authoritarian political currents providing the public with simplistic answers to difficult questions.

The ECJ remains true to itself

The ruling of the European Court of Justice is in line with its judgment of 8 April 2014, by which the Court annulled Directive 2006/24/EC on the retention of data. The general obligation to retain traffic and location data required by this Directive was not limited to the absolutely necessary and thus disproportionate to the fundamental rights of respect for private life and the protection of personal data (Articles 7 and 8 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights).

Despite the annulment of the Data Retention Directive by the ECJ, several Member States have continued or even broadened their practice of data retention. The latter took place in Great Britain, where shortly after the ECJ ruling – in July 2014 – a new legal basis for data retention was passed, which even went beyond the abolished EC directive. According to the British Parliament’s intention to implement the so-called „Investigatory Powers Act“, the major current commitments to compulsory data storage and the supervisory powers of the security authorities are to be extended in the short term and will include web services, in particular transactions on social networks. On November 29, 2016, the upper and lower house agreed on a corresponding legal text, which is to enter into force soon after its formal approval by the Queen. In other Member States, too, there are – differently broad-ranging – legal requirements which oblige providers of telecommunications and internet services to reserve traffic and location data whose conservation is not necessary for the provision or the billing of the respective service.

European Charter of Fundamental Rights binding for national legislature

A Swedish and a British court had asked the ECJ to clarify whether the respective national regulations on the retention of data corresponded to the European legal requirements.

In its new ruling the ECJ answered this question by stating that national regulations which provide a general and indiscriminate storage of data are not in line with the EU law. A national regulation providing for the storage of traffic and location data, is to be regarded as serious interference in fundamental rights. Member States must not maintain or re-adopt rules which are based on, or even go beyond, an EU act which has been annulled on grounds of its fundamental illegality.

The provisions of EU law bind the national legislature. The EU Directive 2002/58/EC on data protection in electronic communications (the ePrivacy Directive) has to be interpreted in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Exceptions to the protection of personal data should be limited to the absolutely necessary. This applies not only to the rules on data retention, but also to the access of authorities to the stored data. A national provision providing for general and indiscriminate data retention which does not require a link between the data for which it is originally intended to be stored and a threat to public security, and in particular is not limiting the data on a period and / or a geographical area and / or of a group of persons which could be involved in a serious criminal act, transcends the limits of the absolutely necessary and can not be regarded as justified in a democratic society. Laws of Member States that do not meet these requirements must be abolished or amended accordingly.

With regard to the contested British and Swedish laws, the competent national courts which had appealed to the ECJ are now required to enforce the ECJ ruling in substance. However, even the parliaments and governments of the Member States are, too, responsible for reviewing and, where appropriate, correcting the relevant provisions of national law.

What happens to German data retention?

The implications of the ECJ ruling for the German data retention recently reintroduced must also be urgently examined. The retention obligations of the new German Data Retention Act remain behind the predecessor regulation, which was repealed by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2010. However, it is highly doubtful whether the provisions of the ECJ will be fulfilled by the new data retention act, since it obliges the telecommunications providers to store the data without any material restriction on a specific area or a particular risk situation.

The fact that the Federal Government or the parliamentary fractions backing them will now carry out this examination in an objective manner appears to be highly unlikely in the light of the additional powers which they have recently decided to hand over to the security authorities. In the end, the Federal Constitutional Court will probably have to ensure clarity again.

Peter Schaar (21 December 2016)

Data retention and national law: the ECJ ruling in Joined Cases C-203/15 and C-698/15 Tele2 and Watson (Grand Chamber)

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

Lorna Woods, Professor of Internet Law, University of Essex

Introduction

Today’s judgment in these important cases concerns the acceptability from a human rights perspective of national data retention legislation maintained even after the striking down of the Data Retention Directive in Digital Rights Ireland (Case C-293/12 and 594/12) (“DRI”) for being a disproportionate interference with the rights contained in Articles 7 and 8 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (EUCFR).  While situated in the context of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (Directive 2002/58), the judgment sets down principles regarding the interpretation of Articles 7 and 8 EUCFR which will be applicable generally within the scope of EU law. It also has possible implications for the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

Background and Facts

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive requires the confidentiality of communications, including the data about communications to be ensured through national law. As an exception it permits, under Article 15, Member States to take measures for certain public interest objectives such as the fight against terrorism and crime, which include requiring public electronic communications service providers to retain data about communications activity. Member States took very different approaches, which led to the enactment of the Data Retention Directive (Directive 2006/24) within the space for Member State action envisaged by Article 15.  With that directive struck down, Article 15 remained the governing provision for exceptions to communications confidentiality within the field harmonised by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive.  This left questions as to what action in respect of requiring the retention of data could be permissible under Article 15, as understood in the light of the EUCFR.

The cases in today’s judgment derive from two separate national regimes. The first, concerning Tele2, arose when – following the DRI judgment – Tele2 proposed to stop retaining the data specified under Swedish implementing legislation in relation to the Data Retention Directive. The second arose from a challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIPA) which had been enacted to provide a legal basis in the UK for data retention when the domestic regime implementing the Data Retention Directive fell as a consequence of the invalidity of that directive.  Both sets of questions referred essentially asked about the impact of the DRI reasoning on national regimes, and whether Articles 7 and 8 EUCFR constrained the States’ regimes.

The Advocate General handed down an opinion in July (noted here) in which he opined that while mass retention of data may be possible, it would only be so when adequate safeguards were in place.  In both instances, the conditions – in particular those identified in DRI – were not satisfied.

Judgment

Scope of EU Law

A preliminary question is whether the data retention, or the access of such data by police and security authorities, falls within EU law.  While the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive regulated the behaviour of communications providers generally, Article 1(3) of that Directive specifies that matters covered by Titles V and VI of the TEU at that time (e.g. public security, defence, State security) fall outside the scope of the directive, which the Court described as relating to “activities of the State” . Further Article 15(1) permits the State to take some measures resulting in the infringement of the principle of confidentiality found in Art 5(1) which again “concern activities characteristic of States or State authorities, and are unrelated to fields in which individuals are active” [para 72]. While there seems to be overlap between Article 1(3) and Article 15(1), this does not mean that matters permitted on the basis of Article 15(1) fall outside the scope of the directive as “otherwise that provision would be deprived of any purpose” [para 73].

In the course of submissions to the Court, a distinction was made between the retention of data (by the communications providers) and access to the data (by police and security services).  Accepting this distinction would allow a line to be drawn between the two, with retention as an activity of the commercial operator regulated by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive within its scope and the access, as an activity of the State lying outside it. The Court rejected this analysis and held that both retention and access lay within the field of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive [para 76]. It argued that Article 5(1) guarantees confidentiality of communications from the activities of third parties whether they be private actors or state authorities. Moreover, the effect of the national legislation is to require the communications providers to give access to the state authorities which in itself is an act of processing regulated by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive [para 78]. The Court also noted that the sole purpose of the retention is to be able to give such access.

Interpretation of Article 15(1)

The Court noted that the aim of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive is to ensure a high level of protection for data protection and privacy. Article 5(1) established the principle of confidentiality and that “as a general rule, any person other than the user is prohibited from storing, without the consent of the users concerned, the traffic data”, subject only to technical necessity and the terms of Article 15(1) (citing Promusicae) [para 85].  This requirement of confidentiality is backed up by the obligations in Article 6 and 9 specifically dealing with restrictions on the use of traffic and location data. Moreover, Recital 30 points to the need for data minimisation in this regard [para 87]. So, while Article 15(1) permits exceptions, they must be interpreted strictly so that the exception does not displace the rule; otherwise the rule would be “rendered largely meaningless” [para 89].

As a result of this general orientation, the Court held that Member States may only adopt measures for the purposes listed in the first sentence of Article 15(1) and those measures must comply with the requirements of the EUCFR.  The Court, citing DRI (at paras 25 and 70), noted that in addition to Articles 7 and 8 EUCFR, Article 11 EUCFR – protecting freedom of expression – was also in issue. The Court noted the need for such measures to be necessary and proportionate and highlighted that Article 15 provided further detail in the context of communications whilst Recital 11 to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive requires measures to be “strictly proportionate” [para 95].

The Court then considered these principles in the light of the reference in Tele2 at paras 97 et seq of its judgment. Approving expressly the approach of the Advocate General on this point, it  underlined that communications “data, taken as a whole, is liable to allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained” and that such data is no less sensitive that content [para 99]. The interference in the view of the Court was serious and far-reaching in relation to Articles 7, 8 and 11.  While Article 15 identifies combatting crime as a legitimate objective, the Court – citing DRI – limited this so that only the fight against serious crime could be capable of justifying such intrusion.  Even the fight against terrorism “cannot in itself justify that national legislation providing for the general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data should be considered necessary” [para 103].  The Court stressed that the regime provides for “no differentiation, limitation or exception according to objectives pursued” [para 105].  The Court did confirm that some measures would be permissible:

… Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, read in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter, does not prevent a Member State from adopting legislation permitting, as a preventive measure, the targeted retention of traffic and location data, for the purpose of fighting serious crime, provided that the retention of data is limited, with respect to the categories of data to be retained, the means of communication affected, the persons concerned and the retention period adopted, to what is strictly necessary. [para 108]

It then set down some relevant conditions:

Clear and precise rules “governing the scope and application of such a data retention measure and imposing minimum safeguards, so that the persons whose data has been retained have sufficient guarantees of the effective protection of their personal data against the risk of misuse” [para 109].

while “conditions may vary according to the nature of the measures taken for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of serious crime, the retention of data must continue nonetheless to meet objective criteria, that establish a connection between the data to be retained and the objective pursued” [110].

The Court then emphasised that there should be objective evidence supporting the public whose data is to be collected on the basis that it is likely to reveal a link, even an indirect one, with serious criminal offences, and thereby contribute in one way or another to fighting serious crime or to preventing a serious risk to public security. The Court accepted that geographical factors could be one such ground, on the basis that “that there exists, in one or more geographical areas, a high risk of preparation for or commission of such offences” [para 111].

Conversely,

…Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, read in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which, for the purpose of fighting crime, provides for the general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication [para 112].

Acceptability of legislation where (1) the measure is not limited to serious crime; (2) where there is no prior review; and (3) where there is no requirement that the data stays in the EU.

This next section deals with the first question referred in the Watson case, as well as the Tele 2 reference.

As regards the first point, the answer following the Court’s approach at paragraphs 90 and 102 is clear: only measures justified by reference to serious crime would be justifiable.  As regards the second element, the Court noted that it is for national law to law conditions of access so as to ensure that the measure does not exceed what is strictly necessary.  The conditions must be clear and legally binding. The Court argued that since general access could not be considered strictly necessary, national legislation must set out by reference to objective criteria the circumstances in which access would be permissible.  Referring to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Zakharov, the Court specified:

access can, as a general rule, be granted, in relation to the objective of fighting crime, only to the data of individuals suspected of planning, committing or having committed a serious crime or of being implicated in one way or another in such a crime [para 119].

It then distinguished the general fight against crime from the fight against terrorism to suggest that in the latter case:

access to the data of other persons might also be granted where there is objective evidence from which it can be deduced that that data might, in a specific case, make an effective contribution to combating such activities [para 119].

The conditions set down must be respected. The Court therefore held that, save in cases of genuine emergency, prior review by an independent body must be carried out on the basis of a reasoned request by the investigating bodies. In making this point, the Court referred to the ECtHR judgment in Szabó and Vissy v. Hungary, as well as its own previous ruling in DRI. Furthermore, once there was no danger to the investigation by so doing, individuals affected should be notified, so as to those affected people the possibility to exercise their right to a remedy as specified in Article 15(2) read with Article 22 of the Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46).

Article 15(1) permits derogation only in relation to specified provisions in the directive; it does not permit derogation with regard to the security obligations contained in Article 4(1) and 4(1a). the Court noted the quantity of data as well as its sensitivity to suggest that a high level of security measures would be required on the part of the electronic communications providers. Following this, the Court then stated:

…, the national legislation must make provision for the data to be retained within the European Union and for the irreversible destruction of the data at the end of the data retention period (see, by analogy, in relation to Directive 2006/24, the Digital Rights judgment, paragraphs 66 to 68) [para 122].

The Court noted that as a separate obligation from the approval of access to data, that States should ensure that independent review of compliance with the required regulatory framework was carried out by an independent body. In the view of the Court, this followed from Article 8(3) EUCFR. This is an essential element of individuals’ ability to make claims in respect of infringements of their data protection rights, as noted previously in DRI and Schrems.

The Court then summarised the outcome of this reasoning, that Article 15 and the EUCFR:

must be interpreted as precluding national legislation governing the protection and security of traffic and location data and, in particular, access of the competent national authorities to the retained data, where the objective pursued by that access, in the context of fighting crime, is not restricted solely to fighting serious crime, where access is not subject to prior review by a court or an independent administrative authority, and where there is no requirement that the data concerned should be retained within the European Union. [para 125]

Relationship between the EUCFR, EU law and the ECHR

The English Court of Appeal had referred a question about the impact of the ECHR on the scope of the EUCFR in the light of Article 52 EUCFR. While the Court declared the question inadmissible, it –like the Advocate General – took the time to point out that the ECHR is not part of EU law, so the key issue is the scope of the EUCFR; and in any event Article 52(3) does not preclude Union law from providing protection that is more extensive than the ECHR. As a further point, the Court added that Article 8 EUCFR, which provides a separate right to data protection, does not have an exact equivalent in the ECHR and that there is therefore a difference between the two regimes.

Comment

Given the trend of recent case law, the outcome in this case is not surprising.  There are some points that are worth emphasising.

The first relates to the scope of EU law, which is a threshold barrier to any claim based on the EUCFR.  The Advocate General seemed prepared to accept a distinction between the retention of data and the access thereto (although conditions relating to the latter could bear on the proportionality of the former).  The Court took a different approach and held that the access also fell within the scope of the Directive/EU law, because the national regime imposed an obligation on the communications service provider to provide access to the relevant authorities. Given this was an obligation on the service provider, it fell within the regulatory schema.  This approach thus avoids the slightly unconvincing reasoning which the Advocate General adopted.  It also possibly enlarges the scope of EU law.

In general terms, the Court’s reasoning looks at certain provisions of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive.  While the reasoning is set in that context, it does not mean that the Court’s interpretation of the requirements deriving from the EUCFR is limited only to this set of surveillance measures.  The rules of interpretation of particularly Articles 7 and 8 could apply more generally – perhaps to PNR data (another form of mass surveillance) – and beyond.  It is also worth noting that according to a leaked Commission document, it is proposed to extend the scope of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive to other communications service providers not currently regulated by the directive, but who may be subject to some data retention requirements already.

Whilst the Court makes the point that Articles 7 and 8 EUCFR are separate and different, and that data retention implicates also Article 11 EUCFR, in its analysis of the impact of national measures providing for retention it does not deal with Articles 7 and 8 separately (contrast DRI where a limited consideration was given to this). Having flagged Article 11 EUCFR, it takes that analysis no further.  This is the leaves questions as to the scope of the rights, and particularly how Article 11 issues play out.

Note that the Court does not state that data retention itself is impermissible; indeed, it specifies circumstances when data retention would be acceptable. It challenges the compatibility of mass data retention with Articles 7 and 8 EUCFR, however, even in the context of the fight against terrorism.  In this, it is arguable that the Court has taken a tougher stance than its Advocate General on this point of principle.  In this we see a mirror of the approach in DRI, when the Court took a different approach to its Advocate General.  In that case too, the Advocate General focussed on safeguards and the quality of law, as has the Advocate General here. For the Court here, differentiation – between people and between types of offences and threats – based on objective, evidenced grounds is central to showing that national measures are proportionate and no more than – in the terms of the directive – strictly necessary. This seems to go close to disagreeing with the Opinion of the Advocate General that in DRI, the Court ‘did not, however, hold that that absence of differentiation meant that such obligations, in themselves, went beyond what was strictly necessary’ (Opinion, para 199). The Advocate General used this point to argue that DRI did not suggest that mass surveillance was per se unlawful (see Opinion, para 205). Certainly, in neither case did the Court expressly hold that mass surveillance was per so unlawful, so the question still remains. What is clear, however, is that the Court supports the retention of data following justified suspicion – even perhaps generalised suspicion – rather than using the analysis of retained data to justify suspicion.

In its reasoning, the Court did not –unlike the Advocate General – specifically make a ruling on whether or not the safeguards set down in DRI, paras 60-68, should be seen as mandatory – in effect creating a 6 point check list. Nonetheless, it repeatedly cited DRI approvingly. Within this framework, it highlighted specific aspects – such as the need for prior approval; the need for security and control over data; a prohibition on transferring data outside the EU; the need for subjects to be able to exercise their right to a remedy. Some of these points will be difficult to reconcile with the current regime in the United Kingdom regarding communications data.

It did not, however, touch on acceptable periods for retention (even though it – like its Advocate General – referred to Zakharov). More generally, the Court’s analysis – by comparison with that of the Advocate General – was less detailed and structured, particularly about the meaning of necessity and proportionality. It did not directly address the points the Advocate General made about lawfulness, with specific reference to reliance on codes (an essential feature of the UK arrangements); it did in passing note that the conditions for access to data should be binding within the domestic legal system. Is this implicit agreement with the Advocate General on this point? It certainly agreed with him that the seriousness of the interference meant that data retention of communications data should be restricted to ‘serious crime’ and not just any crime.

One final issue relates to the judicial relationship between Strasbourg and Luxembourg.  Despite emphasising that the ECHR is not part of EU law, the Court relies on two recent cases from the ECtHR, perhaps seeking to emphasis the consistency in this area between the two courts – or perhaps seeking to put pressure on Strasbourg to hold the line as it faces a number of state surveillance cases on its own docket, many against the UK. The position of Strasbourg is significant for the UK. While many assume that the UK will maintain the GDPR after Brexit in the interests of ensuring equivalence, it could be that the EUCFR will no longer be applicable in the UK post-Brexit. For UK citizens, the ECHR then is the only route to challenge state intrusion into privacy. For those in the EU, data transfers to the UK post-Brexit could be challenged on the basis that the UK’s law is not sufficiently adequate compared to EU standards. Today’s ruling – and the UK’s response to it, if any – could be a significant element in arguing that issue.

Brexit and the Future of Human Rights Law in the UK

Original published on EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Steve Peers

*The following is adapted from my comments at the launch of Conor Gearty’s book On Fantasy Island: Britain, Europe and Human Rights last week

What’s the future for human rights law in the UK after Brexit? The starting point in the debate is what happens to the Human Rights Act – the subject of Professor Gearty’s new book On Fantasy Island. It has a thorough grasp of detail, but also makes the case for the Act in its social, political and historical context. It has a command of the whole subject, but also demonstrates the importance of human rights cases to the individuals concerned.

In particular, On Fantasy Island demolishes the myth of a glorious past for human rights as part of the common law (see also his blog post on this theme). As Professor Gearty notes, it’s true that the Salvation Army had the right to march joylessly to demand that people endure grinding poverty with tedious sobriety. But many others were unsuccessful asserting such rights – or were subject to wrongful convictions which sometimes either turned into wrongful executions or would have done so if the death penalty were still applied.

The book also punctures the misunderstandings of the Human Rights Act (HRA) that portray it as entrenching excessive judicial power constraining elected politicians – pointing out that the courts (in the UK, or the European Court of Human Rights) cannot overturn Acts of Parliament on human rights grounds.

Indeed, in light of this conscious compromise between parliamentary sovereignty and human rights protection – comparable to that in ‘poster child’ common law Commonwealth states Canada and New Zealand – coupled with British involvement in drawing up the ECHR, it could be said that the UK’s human rights system is already so ‘red, white and blue’ that even Pavlov’s bulldogs should salivate at the mention of its name.

Of course, the public perception of the UK’s human rights system does not see it as closely linked to our legal heritage, despite several provisions of the ECHR and HRA that resemble Magna Carta. I’ll return to that problem below.

The Brexit context

There’s a substantive dimension to the links between Brexit and the Human Rights Act, as well as a broader political and advocacy dimension. Substantively, human rights are protected as a matter of EU law whenever the issue in the particular case is linked to EU law, for example in areas such as data protection, discrimination and asylum law. In that case, the EU Charter of Rights applies – with rights corresponding to the ECHR as well as some rights drawn from other sources. There’s also a stronger system for protecting those rights: UK courts at any level can set aside an Act of Parliament if necessary to that end, as seen in Vidal-Hall and Benkharbouche.

After Brexit, such protection will be governed by the detailed rules in the planned ‘Great Repeal Act’, which will convert EU law into UK law until individual measures are amended or repealed. This raises issues similar to the ‘post-HRA’ scenario discussed in On Fantasy Island. In particular: will CJEU case law still apply? Will the Charter of Rights still apply? What will the legal effect of the Act be, as a matter of domestic law? Will it be considered a ‘constitutional statute’, with a form of privileged status compared to other Acts of Parliament? How easy will be for the executive to repeal ex-EU laws (an issue discussed further here).

As for the political dimension, there is some overlap between the debate over the Human Rights Act and Brexit, but some differences too. Most notably, the dynamics of a referendum do not apply to the debate over the HRA.

And yet, the debate over HRA repeal will take place in Brexit Britain – a country which, to update Dean Acheson’s famous phrase, has now lost its post-war role but cannot refound its empire. Frustrated by this unavoidable fact, it is unlikely the critics of all things ‘European’ will feel full after Brexit. The Human Rights Act looks likely to be their next snack.

There is, however, a theoretical possibility – canvassed in Professor Gearty’s book – that a new British Bill of Rights or somesuch could be fashioned, while avoiding the weak points in the common law system for the protection of human rights. Frankly, while this might (with perfect hindsight) have been the best way to establish ‘constitutional patriotism’ for the Human Rights Act from the outset, this seems unlikely to happen in the current political context.

First of all, leaked government plans indicated the intention was to remove effective remedies while handing the constitutional equivalent of a ‘bung’ to tabloid newspaper editors.

More broadly, the level of public debate since the referendum vote has been diabolically poor. One side basically repeats ‘You lost. Shut up!’ while the other repeats ‘We won’t. You lied!’ ad infinitum. This ‘debate’ has been punctuated by political murder, escalating threats of violence, and a large part of government and media opinion showing visceral contempt for the rule of law and parliamentary democracy.

Towards a new defence of the Human Rights Act

So there’s a strong case for retaining the Human Rights Act; but if we want to retain it, we have to defend it. It’s important to think of the best way to defend it, however. As lawyers or law professors we have to teach and practice human rights law technically – to understand deadlines for filing better than the Home Secretary, for instance. I’ve been called ‘forensic’ so many times that I should probably have my own CSI spin-off.

Moreover, some of the argument in defence of the HRA is defensive. As I pointed out already, Professor Gearty’s book rightly argues that the Act doesn’t allow the Courts to overrule Parliament. But reading arguments like these reminds me of the EU referendum arguments that the UK can overrule major changes to the EU, or that ‘unelected bureaucrats’ do not make all EU laws. Perfectly accurate arguments – but they did not win the day.

It’s also necessary to focus on a more positive case for the Act (including the ECHR more broadly). Some claimants are undeniably hard to love. But human rights law also helped a gay man kicked out of his home because the love of his life died. It protected the elderly in care homes left in their own filth. It safeguards children beaten so badly by their parents that they need to visit the hospital. It offers justice to grieving family members trying to find out why their loved one died. And it exposed wrongdoing leading to the tragic fate of many children whose mothers took the thalidomide drug.

This is the rational but passionate, reasoned yet humane, case that we have to make for the preservation of the Act.