In Germany it is no longer legal for mass telephone and Internet data to be stored in the absence of any specific suspicion of criminal activity.

The German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has rejected a law providing for data to be stored for possible use by law enforcement. The Court ruled that in its present form the law was unconstitutional as it breached the guaranteed right of confidentiality in telecommunications.

The German federal government must now come up with a new law, something which it is expected to do next year.

"On the basis of this judgment, companies must delete stored data," said chief justice Hans-J├╝rgen Papier. However, the Federal Court of Justice did not completely rule out the storage of data required for law enforcement provided that there was a specific suspicion of criminal activity.

The German Federal Music Industry Association (BVMI) in Berlin welcomed this decision on the storage of data as it strengthens data privacy and also the legitimate interests of copyright holders in the prosecution of copyright breaches on the Internet, said Stefan Michalk, managing director of BVMI.

In its ruling, the court stated: "There is a heightened interest in being able to establish a link between communications channels and the acting persons on the Internet in order to protect legal rights and to safeguard the rule of law. Accordingly, it is legitimate for legislation to be passed providing for the identification of Internet contacts in the event of serious breaches of law."

Dagmar Sikorski, president of the German Music Publishers Association in Hamburg, also approved of the rejection of the law.

"Obviously, we as music publishers fully appreciate the fact that people do not wish to be spied on for no good reason," he said. "However, the German Federal Constitutional Court showed a clear solution to the conflict between the right to privacy and data protection on the one hand and the need to protect intellectual property rights on the other. This means that it will still be possible to prosecute unlawful activity on the Internet in the future."