(Refiles to change abbreviation in paras 10 and 11 and correct
first name of minister)
* Court says directive was out of proportion
* German cabinet divided on how to proceed on new law
* Germany had not implemented the rule from Brussels
By Jan Strupczewski and Tom Körkemeier
BRUSSELS/BERLIN, April 8 The European Union's
highest court on Tuesday overthrew a rule that required telecoms
companies to store the communications data of EU citizens for up
to two years, on the grounds that it infringed on basic rights.
Brussels introduced the data-retention directive in March
2006 after bombings on public transport in Madrid and London.
The aim was to give the authorities better tools to investigate
and prosecute organised crime and terrorism.
But not all countries - including Germany, where privacy is
an especially sensitive issue - have implemented the directive.
They could have faced penalties if the court had upheld the rule
requiring companies to store data from six months to two years.
The court ruled that the directive "exceeded the limits" of
"The Court takes the view that, by requiring the retention
of those data and by allowing the competent national authorities
to access those data, the directive interferes in a particularly
serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for
private life and to the protection of personal data," it said.
"Furthermore, the fact that data are retained and
subsequently used without the subscriber or registered user
being informed is likely to generate in the persons concerned a
feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant
surveillance," the court added in a statement.
The rule had required telecoms service providers to keep
traffic and location data as well as other information needed to
identify the user, but not the content of the communication.
In Germany, the directive caused a public debate. Germany's
Constitutional Court blocked a law in 2010 to store all data for
six months. The government has said it would present a new law.
The topic is sensitive in Germany because of the
surveillance by the Gestapo in the Nazi era and by communist
East Germany's Stasi secret police. Germans were outraged by
reports last year of large-scale spying on German and European
citizens, institutions and politicians by U.S. intelligence
In the four-month-old "grand coalition" between Merkel's
conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD), the timing rather
than content of the law was one of the early dividing issues.
Having pushed for the coalition treaty to include a promise
to pass a data-retention law quickly, SPD Justice Minister Heiko
Maas then said in January he would wait until the European
judges had issued their ruling.
After the verdict, Maas said Germany no longer faced fines
and could take time to draw up a new law. But the conservative
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere urged swift legislation and
said data retention of three to six months should be possible.
Austrian and Irish courts had asked the European Court of
Justice to rule if the law was in line with the Charter of
Fundamental Rights of the EU.
(Additional reporting by Tom Koerkemeier and Annika
Breidthardt, writing by Annika Breidthardt and Jan Strupczewski;
Editing by Philip Blenkinsop, Larry King)