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European Court of Justice rules against government electronic surveillance

[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [judgment] Wednesday that "[g]eneral and indiscriminate retention" of e-mails and other electronic communications by governments is illegal, in a decision that many believe could create an opportunity for challenges to the UK's Investigatory Powers Bill [text, PDF]. The EU's highest court did, however, carve out an exception for targeted interception of traffic and location data used in attempts to fight crime. Particularly, the court, in a summary of the case, stated surveillance of electronic communication data would likely "cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance," and, as such, "only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference." This case, appealed by the UK government from a high court decision, was levied in an attempt to create a better understanding of where the EU stands with respect to data retention and surveillance. Those in favor of the court's decision said "[t]oday's judgment upholds the rights of ordinary British people not to have their personal lives spied on without good reason or an independent warrant," while the government and others said the ruling would inhibit future government efforts to prevent and protect against terrorism. The decision may have no practical effect in and of itself as a majority of UK citizens voted [JURIST report] earlier this June to leave the EU.

Data collection and government surveillance continues to be a contentious issue worldwide since Edward Snowden revealed [JURIST report] the scale of bulk data collection in the US and the UK in 2013. Last month a US judge rejected [JURIST report] the New York Police Department's proposed settlement of a lawsuit accusing the department of improperly surveying the Muslim community. In February the US Department of Justice filed a motion to compel [JURIST report] Apple to unlock the encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters. In January the Ontario Superior Court ruled [JURIST report] that police orders requiring telecommunications companies to hand over cellphone user data breached the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Last year the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order allowing the NSA to continue compiling telephone records of a California-based law firm, just one week after a federal judge ruled [JURIST reports] against the part of the agency's surveillance program involving the bulk collection of domestic phone records.

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