March 2 (Bloomberg) — Germany’s highest court overturned a two-year-old anti-terrorism law that requires telecommunications providers such as Deutsche Telekom AG to store Internet and phone data for six months, saying the rules violate privacy.
The law, which came into effect in December 2007 during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s previous government, calls for phone companies to collect data on phone calls, Internet surfing and text messaging for potential use in criminal or terrorist investigations.
The Federal Constitutional Court found that while the storing of communications data isn’t automatically unconstitutional, the law doesn’t sufficiently clarify what the information will be used for or provide for transparency.
The data “must be deleted immediately,” Hans-Juergen Papier, the court’s president, said today as he read out the decision in the western city of Karlsruhe.
Merkel’s government passed the law as part of its efforts to fight crime and terrorism, implementing a European Union directive adopted after the March 2004 bomb attack on Spanish trains that killed 191 people. While prosecutors had access to the data, the law provided limits against storing conversation details or identifying specific Web sites.
Privacy advocates challenged the legislation soon after it came into effect. Some 35,000 complaints were filed to the court, the most in its history, Deutsche Presse-Agentur said.
“This blanket data saving must conform to the very strictest constitutional standards in order to be effective,” Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told reporters in Berlin. “This is a day to be very happy.”
The court said collected information can only be made available through a court warrant. Investigators also must be limited to use such data to pursue a proven “concrete danger” directed against a person or the security of the state. The data can also be used to prevent a “communal danger.”
The judges in Karlsruhe also said service providers should not be allowed to have “uncontrolled” discretion over how information is stored and secured.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of the Free Democratic Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, declined to say when the government would begin drafting a new data-storage law.
–Editors: Alan Crawford, Leon Mangasarian
(Update adds justice minister comments from seventh paragraph.)
By Patrick Donahue
March 02, 2010, 8:12 AM EST