A Special Regard: The Court of Justice and the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection

A Special Regard: The Court of Justice and the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection

The frequency with which the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) rules on the interpretations of the rights to privacy and data protection in European Union (EU) law is constantly accelerating. The increasing case-load can certainly be attributed to the contemporary relevance of these issues in a data-driven society which leads to more cases being referred to the CJEU. However, contrary to earlier case-law, which had a rather limited effect, the recent CJEU decisions have gained prominence for their principle contribution to EU law. In 2014, the Court issued a landmark ruling in the case Digital Rights Ireland and Seitlinger v Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources which catapulted EU citizens’ privacy and data protection rights from the margins of EU law to the center stage. Already in 2015, in the case Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner, the Court has had another occasion to review EU legislation for its compliance with the rights to privacy and data protection under the EU Charter. The invalidation of the EU-U.S. Safe Harbour agreement by the Court has been stirring a global resonance in addition to receiving ample and arguably controversial coverage in international news.

This contribution looks at how the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection are protected in the EU legal order. It primarily assesses the CJEU’s case-law’s trajectory in this field as well as the impact of its decision practice in EU law. Hereby I discuss whether the CJEU holds a particular regard for the rights to privacy and data protection since the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (CFR) was accorded binding legal value in 2009.5 Particular focus is given to the discussion of the two judgments in 2014 and 2015 cited above with which the Court underscored its determination to effectively protect these fundamental rights in the scope of EU law.