EU executive to take Berlin to court over data law

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — The European Union's executive body announced Thursday it is taking Germany to court for failing to implement a directive calling for anti-terrorism authorities to retain data on telephone calls and emails.

The European Commission said it will seek a fine from Berlin at the European Court of Justice stirs a divisive issue for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition.

In March 2010, Germany's highest court overturned a law meant to implement the EU directive, saying that it marked a "grave intrusion" into privacy rights and must be revised. The law had ordered that all data — except content — from phone calls and email exchanges be retained for six months for possible use by criminal authorities to try to determine who contacted whom, from where and for how long.

That stemmed from a 2006 EU directive requiring telecommunications companies to retain phone data and Internet logs for a minimum six months.

Merkel's conservatives have since pushed for narrower legislation that still broadly implements the directive. But their junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, question the need for anything more than limited data retention in cases where authorities actually suspect wrongdoing.

The Free Democrats run the Justice Ministry, and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is an ardent opponent of indiscriminate data retention. She and her party have shown no sign of backing down as German politicians look ahead to national elections expected late next year.

The European Commission made clear in Thursday's announcement that the limited freezing of data advocated by the justice minister wouldn't fully comply with the directive from Brussels.

"Ongoing delays in transposing the directive into national law are likely to have a negative effect on the internal market for electronic communications and on the ability of police and justice authorities to detect, investigate and prosecute serious crime," the Commission said.

It said that it would seek a fine of some €315,000 ($390,000) for every day between a ruling in the case by the EU court and Germany complying with EU law.

Germans are sensitive to privacy issues, a stance that stems from historical experiences of widespread snooping by the state under the Nazis as well as in the former East Germany.

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