EU’s High Court Eurochat Ruling puts Hundreds of Criminal Cases in Jeopardy

A recent ruling by the EU’s highest court found that UK, French and Belgian mass surveillance regimes did not respect privacy, opening the floodgates to sentence appeals on hundreds of Eurochat cases.

In July this year, an international crime sting operation rounded up several Scottish household names in a major crackdown on the EncroChat phone encryption network. Authorities managed to access Encrochat, an encrypted platform used by 60,000 people worldwide, the National Crime Agency has “successfully penetrated” a top-secret communications system used by criminals to trade drugs and guns, said a spokesman.

This is just one example of how UK, French and Belgian mass surveillance regimes used modern high-tech software and equipment to infiltrate and crack high-class criminal networks. Now, however, all these ‘triumphs of justice’ will be put under the spotlight and it is feared many previous convictions will now be overturned.

Major crime figures were among over 800 Europe-wide arrests after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and decoded. More than two tonnes of drugs, several dozen guns and €60m (£54m) in suspect cash were seized, says the NCA. While the NCA were part of the investigations, it was initiated and led by French and Dutch police, and also involved Europol – the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that the UK, French and Belgian bulk data collection or retention regimes (often referred to as ‘mass surveillance’) must be brought within EU law. The cases will now return to each individual country’s courts for implementation of the judgment.

Caroline Wilson Palow, Legal Director of Privacy International, said, quote:

“Today’s judgment reinforces the rule of law in the EU. In these turbulent times, it serves as a reminder that no government should be above the law. Democratic societies must place limits and controls on the surveillance powers of our police and intelligence agencies.

While the Police and intelligence agencies play a very important role in keeping us safe, they must do so in line with certain safeguards to prevent abuses of their very considerable power. They should focus on providing us with effective, targeted surveillance systems that protect both our security and our fundamental rights.”

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Written by

Tony Winterburn

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