UK May Face Legal Battle Over Data Retention

The UK government could face court action over its continued ruling that forces companies to retain data, despite an EU decision that says otherwise.

The Guardian reports that the government has been accused of “breaking the law” by forcing telecommunications companies and ISPs to keep records of Internet usage, calls, and texts. Opponents to the measure have called it a breach of users’ fundamental right to privacy.

Under the Data Retention (EC Directive) Act 2009, the UK has been collecting data in accordance with the EU’s data retention directive from 2006. However in April of this year, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) overturned the directive, declaring it invalid.

Despite the ECJ’s decision and its advocate general, Pedro Cruz Villalón calling the directive a “serious interference with … the right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data,” the UK continues to adhere to a now invalid directive and the Data Retention Act remains in place.

Currently, under the UK law, those required to retain data must do so for 18 months.

Minister for State of Security and Immigration James Brokenshire, of the Home Office, has said that these practices will remains in place for ISPs and telecoms. “At the present time, we consider that the UK Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 remain in force,” he said last week. “Those in receipt of a notice under the regulations have been informed that they should continue to observe their obligations as outlined in any notice.”

Many ISPs have said they will continue to adhere to the UK’s stance on data retention, such as Virgin Media, who stated:

“…We have also been in contact with government and with the Information Commissioner’s Office following the ruling and the UK government’s current position is that although the Directive was held to be invalid, our own Data Retention Regulations are still in force and we must comply with them until such time as they are struck down by a UK court.”

The Guardian goes on to report that the Home Office is looking at the issue as a “matter of urgency”.

“In our view there is no legal basis for the continuation of data retention,” says Elizabeth Knight of the privacy advocates Open Rights Group. “We believe the ISPs should be acting in their customers’ interests and seeking clarity from the courts.”

“At present they are passing the buck and hiding behind government advice to continue as usual. It is for the courts, not the government, to decide whether the UK Data Retention Regulations should continue to be applied.”