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EU Court Overturns German Data Privacy Law

File: the logo of the multinational American Internet technology and services company, Google (center), the American online social media and social networking service, clockwise: Facebook (Top), Twitter, Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Instragram (top L). Taken 10.21.2020
File: the logo of the multinational American Internet technology and services company, Google (center), the American online social media and social networking service, clockwise: Facebook (Top), Twitter, Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Instragram (top L). Taken 10.21.2020

A German law requiring telecoms companies to retain customer data is a breach of EU legislation, a European court ruled Tuesday, prompting the justice minister to vow an overhaul of the rules.

Firms Telekom Deutschland and SpaceNet took action in the German courts challenging the law that obliged telecoms firms to retain customers' traffic and location data for several weeks to fight serious crime.

The case headed to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, which ruled against the German legislation.

"EU law precludes the general and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data," the court said in a statement, confirming its previous judgements on the issue.

The Federal Administrative Court, one of Germany's top courts, had argued there was a limited possibility of conclusions being drawn about people's private lives from the data, and sufficient safeguards were in place.

But the ECJ said the German legislation -- which required traffic data to be retained for 10 weeks, and location for four -- applies to a "very broad set" of information.

It "may allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data are retained... and, in particular, enable a profile of those persons to be established."

The stated aim of the law was to prosecute serious criminal offences or hinder specific risks to national security, but the court said that such measures were not permitted on a "preventative basis".

However, it said that in cases where an EU state faces a "serious threat to national security" that is "genuine and present", telecoms providers can be ordered to retain data.

Such an instruction must be subject to review and can only be in place for a period deemed necessary.

Following the announcement, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann hailed a "good day for civil rights".

"We will now, swiftly and definitively, remove data retention without cause from the law," the minister wrote on Twitter.

Data privacy is a sensitive issue in Germany, where people faced mass surveillance under the Nazi regime as well as in communist East Germany.

Buschmann is from the liberal FDP party, which has made data protection a key plank of its policies.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser -- from Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democratic Party -- said she did not "want to have old debates, but act pragmatically".

Nevertheless, she added the court ruling still gave the government space to implement "what is permissible and urgently necessary".

Faeser noted the ruling still allowed measures such as the storing of IP addresses as part of efforts to fight crime, which she said could help in combating sexual violence against children.

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Dispute Over Technology Impedes Morocco Solar Projects

FILE —Aerial view of the Noor 3 solar power station, near Ouarzazate, southern Morocco, April. 1, 2017. The king unveiled one of the world's biggest solar plants, taking advantage of the Sahara sunshine and a growing global push for renewable energy.
FILE —Aerial view of the Noor 3 solar power station, near Ouarzazate, southern Morocco, April. 1, 2017. The king unveiled one of the world's biggest solar plants, taking advantage of the Sahara sunshine and a growing global push for renewable energy.

RABAT —A dispute over concentrated solar power (CSP) technology is behind years of delays to Morocco's biggest planned solar project after problems at another prominent plant that caused long shut downs, three sources close to the project said.

FILE —A picture taken on February 4, 2016 shows an aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, ahead of its inauguration.
FILE —A picture taken on February 4, 2016 shows an aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, ahead of its inauguration.

Morocco has some of the most ambitious green energy goals of any developing nation, aiming for renewables to represent 52% of installed capacity by 2030 from 37.6% now, mostly through investments in solar and wind plants.

However, it is already falling behind on solar, with only 831 megawatts (MW) installed so far compared to the 2,000 MW that was planned for 2020. Wind has made up some of the shortfall but polluting coal plants still make up most output. Construction has not even started on the planned $2 billion 800 MW Noor Midelt I plant, which was meant to start operating this year, after the Energy Ministry and grid operator ONEE rejected the proposed CSP technology, the sources said.

FILE —An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate on February 4, 2016.
FILE —An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20Km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate on February 4, 2016.

State energy agency MASEN awarded the contract to develop Noor Midelt I in 2019 to a consortium led by EDF Renouvelables. It asked for the plant to have both photovoltaic (PV) technology, which is cheaper but has little ability to store power, and CSP, which is more expensive but continue powering the grid for hours after dark.

However, after the contract was awarded ONEE and the Energy Ministry said they would only agree to buy the power if MASEN either abandoned CSP for PV or changed from thermal salt energy storage to batteries, the sources said.

MASEN and the grid eventually signed a power purchase agreement, but there are still discussions between MASEN and the development consortium over the technology specifications, the sources said.

MASEN says the project was delayed due to the pandemic and is now in the final stage of development but it did not respond to a specific Reuters request for comment on the technology dispute.

FILE—Pablo Ines, of Spain, walks in the building site of Morocco's Noor I solar power plant, near Ouarzazate, Morocco, April, 24, 2015 .
FILE—Pablo Ines, of Spain, walks in the building site of Morocco's Noor I solar power plant, near Ouarzazate, Morocco, April, 24, 2015 .

EDF Renouvelables said Morocco had decided to restart the development in 2022 with a mix of PV, CSP and battery storage. It said the project was "at the final stage of development" and all partners "remain committed."

The Energy Ministry did not comment directly on the problems at Noor Midelt but it said it "tries to be as technology agnostic" as it can as long as costs, sustainability and security objectives are maintained to avoid undue risk.

The World Bank and the European Investment Bank said their financing terms for the project remain valid as discussions continue between MASEN and the consortium. The World Bank said construction will take 30 months once negotiations end.

CSP Plant Difficulties

ONEE cited problems at Noor Ouarzazate, Morocco's best-known solar complex, as the reason for wanting MASEN to change the technology at Noor Midelt, the sources said.

FILE — King Mohammed VI of Morocco waves a Moroccan flag as Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy CEO Mustapha Bakkoury, 2nd right, applauds during the launch of the Noor Ouarzazate 4 solar plant, in Ouarzazate, central Morocco, April 1, 2017.
FILE — King Mohammed VI of Morocco waves a Moroccan flag as Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy CEO Mustapha Bakkoury, 2nd right, applauds during the launch of the Noor Ouarzazate 4 solar plant, in Ouarzazate, central Morocco, April 1, 2017.

Technological problems stopped all output at a 150 MW plant there for a year from summer 2021, said two of the sources. "Noor Ouarzazate helped put Morocco on the global map of large-scale renewable energy projects. But a closer look in terms of operation costs and maintenance issues show that the plant is rather a liability," said a source close to Noor Midelt I.

"With hindsight, Ouarzazate served as a testing ground for an immature CSP technology," said another source.

Morocco's economic, social, and environmental council recommended abandoning CSP altogether in a 2020 report due to its high cost compared to PV and wind. That report said MASEN was operating an $80 million a year deficit at the Noor Ouarzazate complex because it is selling power for less than the production cost.

MASEN, which commissioned Noor Ouarzazate, said the plant had shown "good performance in 2023 both on peak and off-peak hours." It added that CSP technology was a solution that offers storage, helping address grid needs at peak hours.

ACWA Power, the developer of Noor Ouarzazate, and grid operator ONEE did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

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