Case summary

Deciding Body
Austrian Constitutional Court
National case details
Date of decision: 12.12.12
Instance: Constitutional
Case status: Final
Area of law
Data protection

Relevant principles applied
Effectiveness, Proportionality
Preliminary ruling
Judgement of the CJEU (Grand Chamber), 8 April 2014, Case C-594/12 Kärntner Landesregierung and Others, Case C-293/12 Digital Rights Ireland Ltd v Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Others

Life-cycle diagram

  1. 15 March 2006

    Approval of Directive 2006/24/CE

  2. 11 June 2012

    Request for a preliminary ruling - High Court of Ireland

  3. 19 December 2012

    Request for a preliminary ruling-Austrian Verfassungsgerichtshof

  4. 8 April 2014

    Judgment of the Court of Justice

  5. 27 June 2014

    Austrian Constitutional Court invalidated national laws

Identification of the case

National law sources
  • Paragraph 102a of Telekommunikationsgesetz 2003(Law on telecommunications)
EU law sources
  • Directive 2006/24/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 (Data Retention Directive)
ECHR provisions
Article 8 ECHR

Summary of the case

Facts of the case

This case originated from several actions brought before the Verfassungsgerichtshof (Austrian Constitutional Court) by the Kärntner Landesregierung, Mr M. S. and other 11.130 applicants, seeking the annulment of the provisions of the 2003 Law on Telecommunications (Telekommunikationsgesetz 2003) concerning the obligation to retain data and transposing Directive 2006/24 into Austrian law. The claimants took the view that such provisions constituted, inter alia, an infringement of Article 8 of the Charter.

Type of enforcement
  • Other
Measures, actions, remedies claimed/applied

annulment of measures of national law

Preliminary questions

Are Articles 3 to 9 of Directive 2006/24 compatible with Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union?

Reasoning (legal principles applied)

The Court acknowledges that the obligation imposed by the Directive 2006/24 on providers of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks to retain, for a certain period, data relating to a person’s private life and to her communications for the purpose of access to them by the competent national authorities constitutes, in itself, an interference with the rights guaranteed by Article 7 and Article 8 of the Charter. The Court notices that such an interference is subject to Article 52(1) of the Charter. This Article provides that any limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms laid down by the Charter must be provided for by law, respect their essence and, subject to the principle of proportionality, limitations may be made to those rights and freedoms only if they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The Court then examines Directive 2006/24 in the light of Article 52(1) of the Charter: • the essence of rights and freedoms laid down by the Charter: the retention of data prescribed by the Directive is not such as to adversely affect the essence of the rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data; • objectives of general interest: the purpose of allowing competent national authorities to have access to those data responds to an objective of general interest, i.e., the fight against serious crime and thus public security; • principle of proportionality: by adopting Directive 2006/24, the EU legislature has exceeded the limits imposed by the principle of proportionality in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 52(1) of the Charter. Indeed, even though the retention of data may be considered to be appropriate for attaining the objective pursued by the Directive, the interference caused by the Directive does not seem to be limited to the strictly necessary. In the light of these considerations, the Court concludes that by adopting Directive 2006/24, the EU legislature has exceeded the limits imposed by compliance with the principle of proportionality in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 52(1) of the Charter: “Directive 2006/24 does not lay down clear and precise rules governing the extent of the interference with the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter. It must therefore be held that Directive 2006/24 entails a wide-ranging and particularly serious interference with those fundamental rights in the legal order of the EU, without such an interference being precisely circumscribed by provisions to ensure that it is actually limited to what is strictly necessary” (para. 65).

Implementation of preliminary ruling

On 27 June 2014, in the light of the judgement delivered by the Court of Justice in Digital Rights, the Austrian Constitutional Court declared national data retention laws void. Indeed, according to the Court, data retention, as implemented under Austrian law, represented a massive interference with the right to privacy and the right to data protection.

Role of the Charter and role of the general principles on enforcement

Relation to scope of the Charter

Articles 7, 8 and 52(1) of the Charter were directly applied in the case: the Court declared that Directive 2006/24/EC is invalid because it infringed upon Article 7 and 8 CFREU without complying with Article 52(1) CFREU.

Reference to national provisions

Paragraph 1 of the Federal Law on the protection of personal data, which has constitutional status, provides for a fundamental right to data protection

Relevance of CFREU and ECHR articles or related rights

The Court builds its reasoning on Articles 7, 8 and 52(1) CFREU. Article 8 ECHR was also applied by the Court since, in providing for the right to respect for private and family life, it is considered the equivalent of Article 7 CFREU.

Relevant principles applied
  • Effectiveness
  • Proportionality
Principle of effectiveness

In examining the compliance of Directive 2006/24 with the principle of proportionality, the Court concludes that “Directive 2006/24 does not provide for sufficient safeguards, as required by Article 8 of the Charter, to ensure effective protection of the data retained against the risk of abuse and against any unlawful access and use of that data” (para. 66).

Principle of proportionality

The principle of proportionality, applied to EU legislative action, inspires the conclusion of the Court. Indeed, in the view of the Court, Directive 2006/24 entails a serious interference of the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter without limiting such interference to what is strictly necessary: first, the Directive targets all individuals without any differentiation or exception; second, no objective criterion is provided to limit the access of the competent national authorities to data and their subsequent use; third, the Directive imposes a data retention period of at least six months, without making any distinction between the categories of data involved on the basis of the persons concerned or the possible usefulness of the data in relation to the objective pursued.

Elements of judicial dialogue

Vertical dialogue type
  • Direct dialogue between CJEU and National court (preliminary reference)
Dialogue techniques

Preliminary reference

Purposes of using judicial dialogue

To verify the validity of Directive 2006/24 in the light of the rights enshrined in Article 7 and 8 of the Charter.

Additional notes on the decision

Impact on legislation/policy

After the invalidation of the Data Retention Directive by the Court of Justice, the EU did not present a new legislative initiative on data retention.

Impact on national case law

As a result of Digital Rights Ireland, several national data retention laws have been invalidated by national courts. By way of example, on 11 March 2015, the District Court of The Hague suspended the 2009 Telecommunications Data Retention Act (TDRA), that was drafted on the basis of EU Data Retention Directive. By the same token, Digital Rights Ireland largely inspired the decision of the Belgian Constitutional Court to annul, on 11 June 2015, the Belgian data retention law. The Constitutional Courts of Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria also annulled their respective national data retention provisions.

Other notes

Following the judgment in Digital Rights Ireland, two references were made to the CJEU by the Kammarrätten i Stockholm (Administrative Court of Appeal, Stockholm, Sweden) and the Court of Appeal (England and Wales) (Civil Division) (UK) in relation to the general obligation imposed on providers of electronic communications services by the Swedish and the UK legislation respectively to retain the data related to those communications. Precisely, the Court of Justice was requested to judge upon the compatibility with EU law of national rules that impose on providers a general obligation to retain data for the purpose of access to them by the competent national authorities where such access is not subject to specific substantive and procedural conditions. In the judgment delivered in joined Cases C-203/15 Tele2 Sverige AB v Post-och telestyrelsen and C-698/15 Secretary of State for the Home Department v Tom Watson and Others of 21 December 2016, the Court of Justice concludes that EU law precludes a general and indiscriminate retention of traffic data and location data, but it is open to Members States to allow for targeted retention of data, provided that such retention is limited to what is strictly necessary and that access of the national authorities to the retained data is subject to specific conditions.

External links

Case author

Isabella Oldani, University of Trento

Published by Sara Paiusco on 8 June 2018