Germany’s bulk data retention law is illegal, EU court finds

21 Sep 2022

Image: © gilbertc/

The European Court of Justice said the ‘general and indiscriminate retention’ of traffic and location data is only allowed when there is a ‘serious threat to national security’.

Europe’s top court has struck a blow to Germany’s data retention rules, saying they violate EU law.

The German law on telecommunications (called TKG) requires telecom operators to retain the traffic data of customers for 10 weeks and location data for a period of four weeks.

German telecom firms SpaceNet and Telekom Deutschland challenged this legal requirement. In its ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found in favour of the telecom firms.

“The Court of Justice confirms that EU law precludes the general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data, except in the case of a serious threat to national security.”

The court said the retention of traffic and location data for long time periods could allow “very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data are retained”.

The ECJ said this could enable a profile to be built of individuals, including places of residence, daily movements, daily activities, social relationships and “the social environments frequented”.

“The data of users who are subject to a duty of professional secrecy, such as lawyers, doctors and journalists, are also retained,” the ECJ said in relation to the German law.

The court confirmed that there are specific circumstances when the retention of this data is allowed, such as the targeted retention of traffic and location data to combat serious crime and prevent serious threats to public security.

It added that the “general and indiscriminate retention” of IP addresses or data on the civil identity of users is allowed for the purposes of safeguarding national security.

“Such national legislation must, moreover, ensure, by means of clear and precise rules, that the retention of data at issue is subject to compliance with the applicable substantive and procedural conditions and that the persons concerned have effective safeguards against the risks of abuse,” the ECJ said.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic