The European court of justice has ruled in favour of a convicted murderer who challenged Ireland’s use of mobile phone metadata in his conviction, with potential implications for criminal investigations across Europe.
The Luxembourg-based court said on Tuesday that Ireland’s system of retaining and accessing mobile phone metadata – which helped secure Graham Dwyer’s conviction – breached European Union law.
The ruling said EU law precluded the general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data in electronic communications for the purposes of combating serious crime, a judgment that builds on un 2014 landmark ruling that clipped the ability of police and intelligence agencies to mine vast troves of data.
The decision boosted a long-running effort by Dwyer to overturn his 2015 conviction for the murder of Elaine O’Hara. Dwyer, a successful architect, killed the childcare worker in August 2012 after grooming her for sadomasochistic fantasies that included stabbing women during sex.
He committed what prosecutors called “very nearly the perfect murder” but was caught and sentenced to life in prison after police tracked his movements through texts and phone data. There were no witnesses or physical evidence.
Dwyer appealed on the grounds the retention and accessing of his mobile phone data breached EU law. Ireland’s supreme court referred the appeal to the ECJ. Its ruling had been expected given previous rulings that governments and service providers do not have broad rights to retain data on citizens.
The court said the combating of crime in the 27-member EU bloc did not justify retaining data that could violate the privacy rights of entire populations. Even particularly serious crimes could not be treated in the same way as threats to national security, ha detto. tuttavia, a genuine or current or foreseeable threat could justify indiscriminate data retention for a limited period of time.
Civil liberty campaigners have criticised Ireland for failing to update its laws after the 2014 landmark ruling. The Green party’s justice spokesperson, Patrick Costello, said Tuesday’s judgment was no surprise. “Ireland has been repeatedly criticised for our national policies on privacy and data retention by numerous judgments, industry and campaigners.”
Dwyer’s appeal will now return to Ireland’s supreme court. The justice minister, Helen McEntee, said the Irish government noted the ECJ ruling and awaited further “clarity” when the supreme court ruled on Dwyer’s case.