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Bulk data collection only lawful in serious crime cases, Advocate General rules

online surveillance imageThe Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that bulk data collection in the UK – as enabled under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (Dripa) 2014 is illegal, except in the fight against serious crime, yesterday’s Guardian reports.

The case had been brought by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and Conservative David Davis (when he was a backbencher; he has since been elevated to Minister for Brexit following the EU referendum. Ed.). The plaintiffs were supported by Liberty, the Law Society, the Open Rights Group and Privacy International.

The case ended up before the ECJ after the government appealed against the original High Court ruling in the plaintiffs’ favour.

In his preliminary ruling, Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe clarified EU law on data collection, stating:

Solely the fight against serious crime is an objective in the general interest that is capable of justifying a general obligation to retain data, whereas combating ordinary offences and the smooth conduct of proceedings other than criminal proceedings … are not.

The court’s final decision will be delivered in the near future. It is a very rare occurrence that the ECJ does not go along with the Advocate General’s opinion.

Welcoming the preliminary ruling, Tom Watson remarked:

“This legal opinion shows the prime minister was wrong to pass legislation when she was home secretary that allows the state to access huge amounts of personal data without evidence of criminality or wrongdoing.

The Advocate General’s ruling is bound to have an effect on the Investigatory Powers Bill, the latest incarnation of the Snoopers’ Charter, which is currently making its was through Parliament.