Cyprus Mail

Supreme court hears personal data challenge

Former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas is already serving a six-year jail sentence

By Angelos Anastasiou

THE Supreme Court yesterday heard a challenge of the law allowing police to retrieve personal telecommunications data in connection with criminal investigations, brought before it by lawyer Michalis Pikis, who is representing former Paphos municipality employee Maria Solomonidou.

Solomonidou found herself facing charges of conspiracy and obstructing a police investigation last November, along with husband Constantinos Sifantos and father Ilias Solomonides, as well as former Paphos mayor Savvas Vergas, when she was found to have sent death threats to witnesses via phone text messages in a suspected land-zoning case against Aristo Developers founder Theodoros Aristodemou.

Police were able to link her – and Vergas – with the messages by establishing that the phone from which the texts were sent had been bought by Vergas, who said he gave it to Solomonidou as a gift. Telecommunications records also showed that the two had been in close proximity to each other at the time the messages were sent.

But a European Court of Justice decision from April 2014, rendered the EU directive allowing the retention and utilisation of private telecommunications records by national authorities for purposes of investigating crimes – on which the relevant national law has been based – “invalid”, as it failed to specify, or even acknowledge the need for, various criteria that should be met before authorities are allowed to violate the fundamental right to privacy.

Such omissions identified included the severity of the crime being investigated, judicial authorisation for retrieving telecommunications data, safeguards against unlawful access and use, and security controls by an independent authority.

The CoJ decision formed Pikis’ main argument for requesting the postponement of Solomonidou’s trial until his challenge to the law allowing the disclosure of her telecommunications data has been heard by the Supreme Court.

Although the principle of allowing the breach of the right to privacy in favour of general interest and security has not been contested by the CoJ, Pikis argued that national legislation has been created on the strength of EU Directive 24/2006. It follows, he argued, that its provisions are also invalid.

Acknowledging that Pikis’ argument merits Supreme Court discussion, the Paphos District Court put Solomonidou’s trial on hold until September 30, pending a decision.

The hearing started at 8:30 am, but although both sides had submitted their positions in writing, Pikis presented a new document in court, which state prosecutor in the Solomonidou case Elena Zachariadou was allowed time to study and respond to.

To this end, Supreme Court judge Antonis Liatsos adjourned the proceedings until next Wednesday, when both sides will be allowed to state their main arguments.

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