CJEU Case C-623/17 / Judgment

Privacy International v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Others
Policy area
Information society
Deciding body type
Court of Justice of the European Union
Deciding body
Court (Grand Chamber)
Type
Decision
Decision date
06/10/2021
ECLI (European case law identifier)
ECLI:EU:C:2020:790
  • CJEU Case C-623/17 / Judgment

    Key facts of the case:

    Reference for a preliminary ruling – Processing of personal data in the electronic communications sector – Providers of electronic communications services – General and indiscriminate transmission of traffic data and location data – Safeguarding of national security – Directive 2002/58/EC – Scope – Article 1(3) and Article 3 – Confidentiality of electronic communications – Protection – Article 5 and Article 15(1) – Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) – Article 4(2) TEU.

    Outcome of the case:

    On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:

    1. Article 1(3), Article 3 and Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications), as amended by Directive 2009/136/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU, must be interpreted as meaning that national legislation enabling a State authority to require providers of electronic communications services to forward traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies for the purpose of safeguarding national security falls within the scope of that directive.
    2. Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, as amended by Directive 2009/136, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU and Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation enabling a State authority to require providers of electronic communications services to carry out the general and indiscriminate transmission of traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies for the purpose of safeguarding national security.
  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter

    1) This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 1(3) and Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications) (OJ 2002 L 201, p. 37), as amended by Directive 2009/136/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009 (OJ 2009 L 337, p. 11) (‘Directive 2002/58’), read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU and Articles 7 and 8 and Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’).

    ...

    4) Recitals 2, 6, 7, 11, 22, 26 and 30 of Directive 2002/58 state:

    ‘(2) This Directive seeks to respect the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised in particular by [the Charter]. In particular, this Directive seeks to ensure full respect for the rights set out in Articles 7 and 8 of [the Charter].

    ...

    50) By its second question, the referring court seeks, in essence, to ascertain whether Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU and Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter, is to be interpreted as precluding national legislation enabling a State authority to require providers of electronic communications services to carry out the general and indiscriminate transmission of traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies for the purpose of safeguarding national security.

    ...

    53) As is apparent from, inter alia, recitals 6 and 7 thereof, the purpose of Directive 2002/58 is to protect users of electronic communications services from risks for their personal data and privacy resulting from new technologies and, in particular, from the increasing capacity for automated storage and processing of data. In particular, that directive seeks, as is stated in recital 2 thereof, to ensure that the rights set out in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter are fully respected. In that regard, it is apparent from the Explanatory Memorandum of the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (COM (2000) 385 final), which gave rise to Directive 2002/58, that the EU legislature sought to ‘ensure that a high level of protection of personal data and privacy will continue to be guaranteed for all electronic communications services regardless of the technology used’.

    ...

    57) Thus, in adopting that directive, the EU legislature gave concrete expression to the rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, so that the users of electronic communications services are entitled to expect, in principle, that their communications and data relating thereto will remain anonymous and may not be recorded, unless they have agreed otherwise (judgment of 6 October 2020, La Quadrature du Net and Others, C‑511/18, C‑512/18 and C‑520/18, paragraph 109).

    ...

    60) In addition, it is apparent from the third sentence of Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58 that the Member States are not permitted to adopt legislative measures to restrict the scope of the rights and obligations provided for in Articles 5, 6 and 9 of that directive unless they do so in accordance with the general principles of EU law, including the principle of proportionality, and with the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Charter. In that regard, the Court has previously held that the obligation imposed on providers of electronic communications services by a Member State by way of national legislation to retain traffic data for the purpose of making it available, if necessary, to the competent national authorities raises issues relating to compatibility not only with Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, relating to the protection of privacy and to the protection of personal data, respectively, but also with Article 11 of the Charter, relating to the freedom of expression (see, to that effect, judgments of 8 April 2014, Digital Rights Ireland and Others, C‑293/12 and C‑594/12, EU:C:2014:238, paragraphs 25 and 70, and of 21 December 2016, Tele2, C‑203/15 and C‑698/15, EU:C:2016:970, paragraphs 91 and 92 and the case-law cited).

    ...

    62) Thus, the interpretation of Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58 must take account of the importance both of the right to privacy, guaranteed in Article 7 of the Charter, and of the right to protection of personal data, guaranteed in Article 8 thereof, as derived from the case-law of the Court, as well as the importance of the right to freedom of expression, given that that fundamental right, guaranteed in Article 11 of the Charter, constitutes one of the essential foundations of a pluralist, democratic society, and is one of the values on which, under Article 2 TEU, the Union is founded (see, to that effect, judgments of 6 March 2001, Connolly v Commission, C‑274/99 P, EU:C:2001:127, paragraph 39, and of 21 December 2016, Tele2, C‑203/15 and C‑698/15, EU:C:2016:970, paragraph 93 and the case-law cited).

    63) However, the rights enshrined in Articles 7, 8 and 11 of the Charter are not absolute rights, but must be considered in relation to their function in society (see, to that effect, judgment of 16 July 2020, Facebook Ireland and Schrems, C‑311/18, EU:C:2020:559, paragraph 172 and the case-law cited).

    64) Indeed, as can be seen from Article 52(1) of the Charter, that provision allows limitations to be placed on the exercise of those rights, provided that those limitations are provided for by law, that they respect the essence of those rights and that, in compliance with the principle of proportionality, they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others.

    ...

    69) As regards the question whether national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, meets the requirements of Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, read in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter, it should be noted that the transmission of traffic data and location data to persons other than users, such as security and intelligence agencies, derogates from the principle of confidentiality. Where that operation is carried out, as in the present case, in a general and indiscriminate way, it has the effect of making the exception to the obligation of principle to ensure the confidentiality of data the rule, whereas the system established by Directive 2002/58 requires that that exception remain an exception.

    70) In addition, in accordance with the settled case-law of the Court, the transmission of traffic data and location data to a third party constitutes interference with the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, regardless of how that data is subsequently used. In that regard, it does not matter whether the information in question relating to persons’ private lives is sensitive or whether the persons concerned have been inconvenienced in any way on account of that interference (see, to that effect, Opinion 1/15 (EU-Canada PNR Agreement) of 26 July 2017, EU:C:2017:592, paragraphs 124 and 126 and the case-law cited, and judgment of 6 October 2020, La Quadrature du Net and Others, C‑511/18, C‑512/18 and C‑520/18, paragraphs 115 and 116).

    71) The interference with the right enshrined in Article 7 of the Charter entailed by the transmission of traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies must be regarded as being particularly serious, bearing in mind inter alia the sensitive nature of the information which that data may provide and, in particular, the possibility of establishing a profile of the persons concerned on the basis of that data, such information being no less sensitive than the actual content of communications. In addition, it is likely to generate in the minds of the persons concerned the feeling that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance (see, by analogy, judgments of 8 April 2014, Digital Rights Ireland and Others, C‑293/12 and C‑594/12, EU:C:2014:238, paragraphs 27 and 37, and of 21 December 2016, Tele2, C‑203/15 and C‑698/15, EU:C:2016:970, paragraphs 99 and 100).

    72) It should also be noted that the transmission of traffic data and location data to public authorities for security purposes is liable, in itself, to infringe the right to respect for communications, enshrined in Article 7 of the Charter, and to deter users of means of electronic communication from exercising their freedom of expression, guaranteed in Article 11 of the Charter. Such deterrence may affect, in particular, persons whose communications are subject, according to national rules, to the obligation of professional secrecy and whistle-blowers whose actions are protected by Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2019 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law (OJ 2019 L 305, p. 17). Moreover, that deterrent effect is all the more serious given the quantity and breadth of the data retained (see, to that effect, judgments of 8 April 2014, Digital Rights Ireland and Others, C‑293/12 and C‑594/12, EU:C:2014:238, paragraph 28; of 21 December 2016, Tele2, C‑203/15 and C‑698/15, EU:C:2016:970, paragraph 101; and of 6 October 2020, La Quadrature du Net and Others, C‑511/18, C‑512/18 and C‑520/18, paragraph 118).

    ...

    75) The importance of the objective of safeguarding national security, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU, goes beyond that of the other objectives referred to in Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, inter alia the objectives of combating crime in general, even serious crime, and of safeguarding public security. Threats such as those referred to in paragraph 74 above can be distinguished, by their nature and particular seriousness, from the general risk that tensions or disturbances, even of a serious nature, affecting public security will arise. Subject to meeting the other requirements laid down in Article 52(1) of the Charter, the objective of safeguarding national security is therefore capable of justifying measures entailing more serious interferences with fundamental rights than those which might be justified by those other objectives (judgment of 6 October 2020, La Quadrature du Net and Others, C‑511/18, C‑512/18 and C‑520/18, paragraph 136).

    76) However, in order to satisfy the requirement of proportionality referred to in paragraph 67 above, according to which derogations from and limitations on the protection of personal data must apply only in so far as is strictly necessary, national legislation entailing interference with the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter must meet the requirements stemming from the case-law cited in paragraphs 65, 67 and 68 above.

    ...

    81) It follows that national legislation requiring providers of electronic communications services to disclose traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies by means of general and indiscriminate transmission exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified, within a democratic society, as required by Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU and Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter.

    82) In the light of all the foregoing considerations, the answer to the second question is that Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU and Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation enabling a State authority to require providers of electronic communications services to carry out the general and indiscriminate transmission of traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies for the purpose of safeguarding national security.

    ...

    83) Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings, a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court. Costs incurred in submitting observations to the Court, other than the costs of those parties, are not recoverable.

    On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:

    1. Article 1(3), Article 3 and Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications), as amended by Directive 2009/136/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2009, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU, must be interpreted as meaning that national legislation enabling a State authority to require providers of electronic communications services to forward traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies for the purpose of safeguarding national security falls within the scope of that directive.
    2. Article 15(1) of Directive 2002/58, as amended by Directive 2009/136, read in the light of Article 4(2) TEU and Articles 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation enabling a State authority to require providers of electronic communications services to carry out the general and indiscriminate transmission of traffic data and location data to the security and intelligence agencies for the purpose of safeguarding national security.