In April, the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘Court’) declared Directive 2006/24/EC on the Retention of Data to be invalid, creating uncertainty for telecommunications operators across the region. In a controversial move by the UK Government, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (‘Act’) has been passed using emergency procedures.
Formulated in 2006, the Directive aimed to harmonise the laws of Member States in relation to the retention of data. It introduced an obligation on telecommunications operators to retain a wide range of traffic and location data, which could then be accessed by national authorities for the purpose of detecting and investigating serious crime. The Directive was implemented in the UK through the Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009.
In its judgment, the Court stated that the obligation to retain communications data and the ability of national authorities to access them constituted an interference with both Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Whilst this satisfied the objective of general interest, it was not proportionate or limited to what was strictly necessary. There was concern that the data collected “may allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained.”
The Act seeks to maintain the status quo by preempting any legal challenge to the Regulations, and allows the Secretary of State to issue a notice requiring the retention of all data, or specific categories of data, for a period of 12 months. Whilst the effect of the Act is largely similar to its predecessor, the language used is more expansive and appears to be capable of encompassing a broader range of data.
The Act also amends certain provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, allowing for the extra-territoriality of warrants in certain circumstances. This is a major step not only for UK interception powers, but for interception powers globally. Last month, we reported that Microsoft would continue to challenge a U.S. court ruling that effectively allowed an extra-territorial warrant to be issued; it appears that the legal basis for similar powers could be being introduced by the back door in the UK.
It is unclear whether the Act will be a temporary piece of legislation, staying in place until a more permanent solution is implemented at EU level, or whether it will be permanent. However, one positive effect will be that telecommunications operators will know what their retention obligations are. That is not the case in almost all other Member States at present.