The Home Office is still ordering internet and telephone providers such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to store records of your calls, text messages and internet usage despite a court ruling that this breaches a fundamental human right to privacy.
In April, the European Court of Justice declared an EU directive requiring providers to store details of your web browsing, emails and telephone calls was illegal.
But two months on, the British government insists it’s business as usual, saying the U.K. version of Data Retention Directive, which requires records of all your phone usage to be kept for up to 18 months, remains intact.
“We consider that the [regulations] remain in place,” insisted Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire in a response to a parliamentary question.
Brokenshire also confirmed that the government has ordered phone companies to keep recording their user’s data while the Home Office considers the impact of the ruling.
The Data Retention Directive requires companies to store details of who you have called and texted for security reasons. But even though this has been struck down at the an EU-wide level, the British government argues this does not immediately invalidate the U.K. version of the law.
This interpretation is contested by freedom of speech groups. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said a simple legal challenge could be enough to make the government stop this mass collection of metadata from users’ phone records.
“Until somebody goes to the court and says, ‘No, the law doesn’t really exist,’ the government can continue to pretend that it does,” he said. “The companies don’t need the data but the government is insisting that they keep it.”
3. This is the parliamentary question that sets out the government’s stance on the European Court ruling:
Even supporters of data retention admit that the legal basis is now on shaky ground. Lord Wasserman, a Conservative peer who supports the policy, has urged the government to act fast or risk losing access to months of communication data.
“Without these regulations, providers have no reason to retain the data and, given the current concern post-Snowden, do not very much want to retain it unless they are compelled to do so,” he said.
Although the directive initially required member states to retain data for a minimum of six months, the EU court struck down a law after a case was brought by Digital Rights Ireland. This is because the directive went too far, with the Advocate General of the European Justice saying, “the Directive constitutes a serious interference with the fundamental right of citizens to privacy.”
Companies contacted by BuzzFeed said they were waiting for the Home Office to clarify its position. Emma Hutchinson, a spokesperson for Virgin Media, said her company was trying to understand where it stood following the EU ruling: “We are seeking clarification on what this [EU ruling] means for us under U.K. law.”
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