The European Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that the EU Data Retention Directive is invalid. According to the judges it entails a disproportionate interference with the right to privacy. In a democracy the minutiae of people’s daily lives is no concern of the state, many commentators concur. Others see data gathering by companies as posing a far greater threat.

An end to the threatening surveillance

Finally the large-scale invasion of privacy has been stopped, the conservative daily De Telegraaf (Netherlands) writes in praise of the ruling by the European Court of Justice on data retention.

The retention of metadata is not as innocent as the governments – including the Dutch – have been claiming for years. This data can give a very clear insight into people’s private lives. The storage of data leads to a society in which people continually have the feeling they’re under surveillance. In a democracy, people’s daily lives are none of the state’s business. But that has been changing bit by bit, and the motto ‘Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear’ has become the norm. The fight against crime and terror does not justify the monstrous encroachment on the private sphere of so many innocent citizens.

Sweden was too timid to question directive

Sweden was a key player on the data retention initiative under social democratic leadership, however the directive was only introduced in the country six years after it was first adopted, in 2012.

Instead of delaying implementation Sweden should have filed a complaint against the directive, but the government didn’t do so because didn’t want to hurt its image, the liberals daily Dagens Nyheter (Sweden) suspects:

If the [current conservative] government – apparently for good reasons – is opposed to data retention, why did Sweden not demand an examination of the directive from the ECJ? Certainly political considerations played a role. How would it have looked if Sweden, as the driving force behind the directive, had demanded a revision later on? Well, at least you can say it wouldn’t have looked bad. It would have shown it can put questions of content over questions of prestige.

Data octopuses are far more dangerous

The storage of communications data is unavoidable if it is to be available for use in cases where serious crimes are suspected, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ( Germany) stresses:

The core issue of data retention is the for the most part already automatic storage of non-personal communications data by private companies. The state obliges them to store this data for a certain amount of time.

… The well-intended ‘liberal’ proposal to freeze only the data of suspects is inappropriate because it would also require the data to be stored first. … But are we seriously considering giving telecommunications companies the last say on the extent to which crimes are prosecuted or prevented? The ‘diffusely threatening feeling of being under surveillance’ could then give way to a very real threat. Luxembourg’s (provisional?) end to the debate should should finally sensitise people to the true threat to individual freedom and state sovereignty – namely the global data gathering octopuses that are not acting on behalf of Germany or Europe.

 Austria was right to be querulous

The judges in Luxembourg made their decision carefully and objectively, and this is also thanks to Austria’s handling of the directive, the liberal-conservative daily Die Presse (Austria) writes approvingly:

The threats that were used to justify spying on everyone do not exist. This insight is among other things the result of Austria’s implementation of the directive, which provides for a detailed assessment of the use of stored data. Thanks to this assessment, the EU judges also know that of 438 inquiries within one year, only one was based on suspicions that a ‘terrorist organisation’ existed.

… The evaluation of communications data remains a necessary instrument for criminal prosecution. The EU and its member states will find solutions for making it possible while at the same time respecting fundamental rights