Organized crime. What does this term conjure up in your mind? Right! Visions of the Godfather, Scarface-the Mob, of course comes to mind. Maybe your visions are more contemporary and you think of the sex and drug traffickers of today plying their illicit trade around the world. One thing that might not readily be imagined is something akin to governments around the world, specifically, the surveillance hawks. But this is what is implied in a recent ruling in Europe.
Last month the European Court of Justice – the highest court in the EU- banned blanket data retention, declaring it unconstitutional. This signals the end of the road for the ’organized crime’ of blanket surveillance. For the record it is good to know what data retention really is. It is where government agencies demand that logs of all communications be stored, ostensibly to be used later, maybe against you. Conversations are not retained but the place, time and how are. In a rebuke of the draconian Data Retention Law (DRD), the Court’s ruling prohibits this practice saying it violates the basic right to privacy. The Court even went so far as to annul the DRD retroactively. Indirectly, they have termed the practice of data retention – organized crime. It seems ironic, doesn’t it?
The argument that governments made in favor of data retention was that it helped deter organized crime. But the extent of the surveillance was so egregious that it stifled freedom of expression. Data retention may have started out with the best of intentions but it soon morphed into a means of invading every nook and cranny of our lives. The proponents of data retention are not about to go quietly.
The Swedish police, for example, are pushing back against the ruling. They maintain that state statutes supersede any federal ruling and call for the continuation of the data collection and retention. The Swedish Police Chief has asked telecom companies to continue storing data so they can gain access to communication logs. This cheekiness smacks of organized crime in its own right in light of European Court of Justice’s ruling. How paradoxical is it that a government entity seeks to fight organized crime with-the organized crime of its own? It will be interesting to see how countries and agencies respond and react to the ban in the ensuing months.
Our thanks to Rick Falkvinge for opening the debate on this issue.