metadataThe European Court of Justice has ruled that the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005, which required all telecommunications providers to retain telephone and Internet metadata, violated the privacy rights of individuals. The court, the European Union’s highest judicial body, sought to balance the act’s legitimate law enforcement and anti-terrorism purposes against the fundamental privacy rights of individuals; the judges said the act violated the principle of proportionality and was insufficiently circumscribed to ensure interference was limited to the strictly necessary.

Digital Rights brought the issue to the High Court in 2006, challenging governmental efforts to require the retention of data in electronic communication, particularly as provided in the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005. That act requires providers of telephone communications services to retain traffic and location data for specified periods to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute crime and to safeguard state security.

According to Arstechnica, Privacy International, a London-based nonprofit, argued, “this ruling demolishes communications data surveillance laws not just across Europe, but sets the precedent for the world.”

In the United States, according to Bloomberg BNA, a coalition of privacy groups sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama administration to recognize the ECJ’s opinion, asserting it “bears directly on the White House’s review of the NSA Telephone Records Collection Program and also the White House study of Big Data and the Future of Privacy.”

Metadata is information generated in the use of technology, and, essentially is data about data. For example, phone-related metadata might include the number of every caller, unique serial numbers of phones involved in a call, the phone conversation’s time and duration, each participant’s location, and phone calling=card numbers. The Guardian’s guide to metadata.