Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

European Court of Justice 2016.jpg

European Court of Justice – February 2016

The next European Court of Justice (ECJ) meeting will take place on April 12 regarding the breaching of human rights by the massive interception of communication data. This hearing is very crucial as it is probable that the EU judges will decide to cut down on the power of UK surveillance laws since ECJ’s rulings are binding on UK courts as well.

There are also three cases that are related to the legality of data collection and are still pending ECJ ‘s decision, which could undermine the new data pact agreement, known as Privacy Shield, putting lots of billions of euros at stake.

Privacy Shield: Is it better than its predecessor?

The EU-US Privacy Shield is made to impose stronger obligations to US companies and protect European citizen’s personal data. This pact was drafted on February 2 and is meant to replace Safe Harbour which has been acknowledged as invalid by the ECJ due to concerns about US mass surveillance. However, it seems that it is too early to judge whether Privacy Shield is going to protect European rights more robustly.

The cases ECJ has to hear

One of the three cases the ECJ will hear is between EU and Canada on sharing airline passenger’s data for law purposes, while the other two focus on data lockup by telecommunication companies. The main problem is meant to be the interception of communication data according to Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin. The chairwoman of the group of 28 EU data protection authorities mentioned during a hearing at the European Parliament: “Bulk collection is obviously a key issue and the judge has not yet settled this”.

It remains to be seen though whether the EU will become more repressive on the data protection framework forcing US firms to comply with the laws or getting them sanctioned or even excluded.

Can EU judges halt British police?

The main point lies on whether the European Court of Justice will decide at the upcoming hearing on reducing the power of the police and security services to receive information from citizen’s phone calls, text messages and e-mails. The latter is coming at a strange point in time where terrorist attacks are the greatest concern in Europe. Thus, if the EU judges implement the aforementioned policy, the British government will not be able to enable police with more power data to locate and capture criminals.

All started when David Davis, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, and Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, won in the High Court against the UK Government on the basis that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) 2014 allows the police to spy on citizens without adequate privacy.

The ECJ will now have to make a decision on this act which has been characterized by the High Court as “inconsistent with European Union law”. More specifically, David Davis had stated: “The simple fact is that the Government is too casual about authorisation mechanisms for data that is very private to ordinary British citizens. They gather up lots of innocent people’s data and allowed too many agencies to get to it too easily. If we win this case it will require them [the Government] to have much more independent scrutiny over that access. It will not stop that access but it will limit unnecessary intrusion in people’s lives.”

Should data privacy laws change to tackle terrorism?

The European Union must become once again an area of security; a word that has lost its meaning in the EU during the last months due to the atrocious terrorist attacks taking place at the Old Continent. It is clear that data privacy laws should be altered in a way that people’s lives remain private but data sharing information is enhanced between intelligent agencies in order to combat terrorism effectively.

Further, Camilla Graham Wood, legal officer at Privacy International, said on this issue: “It would be more effective to use targeted surveillance to tackle terrorism and organized crime. As we have seen from recent atrocities suspected terrorists are known to the police. It is not effective for the authorities to drown themselves in data and to state that this is needed to tackle terrorism and organized crime without providing supporting evidence. It undermines effective scrutiny of the need for these powers.”

All in all, in times of this unprecedented terrorist crisis EU officials are called to act without any delay and protect the ideals and private lives of citizens. At the same time high time that the bloc starts using the mechanisms to improve unification and collaboration against terrorism and the rest of the cumbersome threats.

There is no doubt tough that it is too hard to accomplish both at the same time.

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