UK judges hearing bulk-data collection case to seek EU court guidance

9 June 2017. By Vesela Gladicheva.

British judges are to seek guidance from Europe's highest court on whether the UK intelligence services' bulk collection and use of data of e-mail data for national-security purposes breaches European law.

The decision comes in a case that pits human-rights organization Privacy International against the British government over surveillance powers, a legal battle that began in June 2015.

At a hearing today before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which began on Monday and was held at the High Court in London, presiding judge Michael Burton said he and his fellow judges would work over the summer on the wording of specific questions to be referred to the EU Court of Justice.

He suggested he would be ready to forward the questions in September. "We do not want to hold up our reference to Europe," Burton said at the hearing.

Such a referral might force judges sitting in the Luxembourg court to decide whether the UK's new Investigatory Powers Act, passed last November, is legal.

In December, the EU court ruled that blanket ​British and Swedish laws requiring telecom operators to store subscriber data to assist police are illegal.

Data-retention laws are only legal if they target a place, time or people "likely to be involved in a serious crime," according to that ruling, which concerned a different UK surveillance law previously in place.

Burton also said at the hearing today that he would send the EU court questions relating only to the bulk collection of communications data. Privacy International had argued that EU judges' guidance should also be sought on the legality of bulk personal data.

Burton also said that the two parties would be able to see and comment on the draft questions before they are sent to the Court of Justice.

Privacy report

Receive MLex Editor's Picks in Your Inbox

Complete this form to receive emails from MLex with selected highlights from our global coverage of regulatory risk and opportunity, as well as upcoming events, special reports and exclusive interviews.