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Our View: Personal data protection stymies fight against crime

AG Giorgos Savvides

Attorney-general Giorgos Savvides was perfectly justified in expressing his disappointment over last month’s Supreme Court decision that retaining customer data for six months by telecommunications providers was illegal.

“It was with sadness we see the result, because this decision, instead of helping fight organised crime, will help us lose a great tool we had, which is indisputable and also very very necessary in pursuing serious criminal cases,” Savvides told the House finance committee on Monday. “Unfortunately, we see it now and we are already evaluating one case after another which are affected by this decision.”

The decision has immediate effect which means it affects all cases currently in court or under investigation. Worse still, the Supreme Court has opened the way for appeals by people who had been convicted based on their telephone data. As we have written on several occasions in the past the so-called protection of personal data is taken to such absurd extremes by courts that they protect lawbreakers and criminals. According to our courts, even a photograph of a car parked on a pavement is a violation of personal data and cannot be used as evidence!

The law on the retention of telecommunications data has been challenged in other EU member states and has also gone to the European Court of Justice, but the Supreme Court decision was passed by the smallest possible majority (7 against 6), which would suggest the arguments in support of the appeal were not overwhelming. Yet the decision has to be respected and the authorities will have to accept that they have been deprived of a very important tool in fighting crime by the full bench of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, another tool for combating crime is passing a law that would identify the buyers of all SIM cards. The law would force a person buying a SIM card to give their personal details, but it has been awaiting the legislature’s approval since 2012. Savvides urged deputies to approve the bill which some lawmakers had claimed would be a violation of personal data. The implication of this is that people using an untraceable telephone number for any form of illegality are being protected in the name of personal data!

This was the pretext used by deputies for not passing the bill, but the real reason, according to Savvides, was that telecom companies objected, fearing they would lose income if people had to provide their details to buy SIM cards. But is safeguarding the revenue of ultra-profitable telecom companies a good reason for restricting the ability of the authorities to fight crime? It is as irrational as the Supreme Court preventing the authorities accessing telecom data when investigating cases because protecting personal data is the only thing that matters.

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