Europes highest court ruled Tuesday that national law enforcement authorities may access individuals personal information held by telecoms companies if such data-gathering does not seriously infringe their privacy rights.
In a ruling at the European Court of Justice, the judges said that while peoples fundamental privacy rights must be upheld, the need to access basic information, such as a persons address and phone number stored with mobile phone carriers, to help investigate and prosecute in minor criminal offenses is justifiable.
The decision comes as the Luxembourg court is at the center of several privacy disputes, including efforts by French authorities to extend the so-called Right to be Forgotten worldwide and upcoming hearings related to the legality of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.
“Access to only the data referred to in the request at issue in the main proceedings cannot be defined as serious interference with the fundamental rights of the persons whose data is concerned, as those data do not allow precise conclusions to be drawn in respect of their private lives,” the court said in a statement.
“The interference that access to such data entails may therefore be justified by the objective of preventing, investigating, detecting and prosecuting criminal offences generally, without it being necessary that those offences be defined as serious,” the court concluded.
The case centered on Hernández Sierra, a Spanish citizen who lodged a complaint for robbery and theft of his wallet and mobile telephone, after which the Spanish police asked for personal data from the records of telecoms companies held on the phone and SIM card.
The question before the court was whether robbery and theft constituted “serious crime,” which would then allow police to ask for access to such personal digital records.