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EU slaps down British, Swedish surveillance laws as illegal

By Stephen Feller
A European Union court ruled Wednesday that surveillance laws in Britain and Sweden requiring telecommunication companies to retain user data and make it available on request to government agencies is an unlawful violation of privacy. Photo by Open Grid Scheduler/Flickr.com
A European Union court ruled Wednesday that surveillance laws in Britain and Sweden requiring telecommunication companies to retain user data and make it available on request to government agencies is an unlawful violation of privacy. Photo by Open Grid Scheduler/Flickr.com

LUXEMBOURG, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- A European Union court said in a ruling Wednesday that new surveillance laws adopted in England and Sweden requiring telecommunications companies to retain all user data are not lawful.

Laws in Sweden and Britain allowing intelligence agencies to indiscriminately collect all user email and cell phone data under the pretense of preventing terrorism violate privacy laws, the Court of Justice of the European Union said Wednesday, and would allow governments to judge people's private lives with little to no oversight of how the information is used.

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The law is the latest attempt by a government to collect as much data as possible under the guise of security. Similar efforts in the Netherlands and Germany have been shot down by courts, and the United States' surveillance practices -- such as those revealed by whistle blowers like Edward Snowden -- have come under scrutiny both inside and outside the U.S. as violating the privacy rights of average citizens.

"Most of us can accept that our privacy may occasionally be compromised in the interests of keeping us safe, but no one would consent to giving the police or the government the power to arbitrarily seize our phone records or emails to use as they see fit," said Tom Watson, the former British MP and current deputy leader of the Labor Party who filed the lawsuit with the EU court.

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Watson said he has not seen proper safeguards in place with surveillance programs for the purpose of protecting citizens that either are not the subject of a probe or who are completely innocent of a crime.

While the surveillance laws, the one in England is referred to as the "snooper's charter," are meant to be used to prevent acts of terror in England, Sweden and the rest of Europe, some also point out the recording and collection of that much data could be used for almost anything.

"The interference by national legislation that provides for the retention of traffic data and location data with that right must therefore be considered to be particularly serious," the court said. "The fact that the data is retained without the users of electronic communications services being informed of the fact is likely to cause the persons concerned to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance. Consequently, only the objective of fighting serious crime is capable of justifying such interference."

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