Article 7 - Respect for private and family life
Article 8 - Protection of personal data
Article 47 - Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Key facts of the case:
The Act of 29 May 2016 (“Data Retention Act”) required telecommunication providers to retain all communication data of all residents of Belgium for 12 months.
A group of civil society organisations and the French and German speaking Bar Association challenged the Act before the Constitutional Court as these data were, under certain conditions, accessible to judicial authorities, the police, and intelligence and security services. These organisations therefore argued the Act was in violation of the right to privacy.
In an earlier Judgment of 6 October 2020 (Cases C-511/18, C-512/18 and C-520/18), the European Court of Justice had already ruled that national legislation which requires that providers of access to online public communication services and hosting service providers retain, generally and indiscriminately, inter alia, personal data relating to those services was in violation of Article 23(1) of Regulation 2016/679, read in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter.
Key legal question raised by the Court:
The Court had to determine whether the mandatory retention of communication data was in violation of the right privacy. It had to assess the legality of the retention of data of all citizens during twelve months so that police and other judicial authorities could retrieve them to detect and prosecute criminal offences.
Outcome of the case:
The Belgian Constitutional Court followed the EU Court’s reasoning and ruled that this type of general retention of communication data is in violation with the right to privacy.
The Court emphasized that the Data Retention Act provides, in principle and without limitation, for the general and indiscriminate retention by operators and providers of electronic communications services of the identification data, the access data, the connection data and the communication data referred to in Article 126(3) of the Act. It is therefore in violation of EU Directive 2002/58/EG, in conjunction with articles 7, 8, 11 and 52 § 1 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and articles 10-11 of the Belgian Constitution.
The Court thus found that mandatory retention of communication data should be an exception, not the rule. Moreover, the mandatory retention of data must be subject to transparent and precise rules on the scope and application of the measure concerned, imposing a minimum set of requirements.
The Court found that such mandatory retention of data is only allowed to protect national security against concrete, serious threats and it is up to an investigating judge to determine whether there or not is such a serious threat.
The Court annulled the relevant provisions of the Data Retention Act. With regards to the consequences of this annulment, the Court ruled that it is for the competent criminal court, if necessary, to rule on the admissibility of the evidence gathered in the course of implementing the annulled provisions.
B.5 The sole ground of appeal in Cases Nos 6590 and 6597 is derived from the infringement by the contested law of Articles 10 and 11 of the Constitution, whether or not read in conjunction with Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Articles 7, 8 and 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
B. 15 In so far as it provides, in principle and without limitation to such cases, for the general and indiscriminate retention by operators and providers of electronic communications services of identification data, access data, connection data and communication data covered by Article 126, § Paragraph 3 of the Law of 13 June 2005, the contested law therefore infringes Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58/EC, read in the light of the abovementioned provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and in conjunction with Articles 10 and 11 of the Constitution.
B.5 Het enige middel in de zaken nrs. 6590 en 6597 is afgeleid uit de schending, door de bestreden wet, van de artikelen 10 en 11 van de Grondwet, al dan niet in samenhang gelezen met de artikelen 6 en 8 van het Europees Verdrag voor de rechten van de mens en met de artikelen 7, 8 en 47 van het Handvest van de grondrechten van de Europese Unie.
B. 15 In zoverre zij principieel en zonder beperking tot die gevallen voorziet in een algemene en ongedifferentieerde bewaring, door de operatoren en aanbieders van elektronische communicatiediensten, van de identificatiegegevens, de toegangs- en verbindingsgegevens, alsook van de communicatiegegevens beoogd in artikel 126, § 3, van de wet van 13 juni 2005, schendt de bestreden wet bijgevolg artikel 15, lid 1, van de richtlijn 2002/58/EG, gelezen in het licht van de voormelde bepalingen van het Handvest van de grondrechten van de Europese Unie, en in samenhang met de artikelen 10 en 11 van de Grondwet.