Court Case says that IP Addresses are Personal Data

Court Case says that IP Addresses are Personal Data

Patrick Breyer from the Pirate Party Germany sued the German government for logging all visits to government websites (Case C-582/14). He believes that there should be a right to surf the Internet anonymously if wished. Website owners track user activity on their sites for commercial reasons and to improve user experiences on the site but this data is also often disclosed to law enforcement agencies at request.

Breyer especially turns against the German government logging visitors and believes that users should have a right to stay anonymous:

“Banning governments and Internet giants from identifiably recording our browsing habits is the only way to effectively shield our private life and interests, to prevent erroneous infringement notices and false suspicions. IP addresses have turned out to be extremely prone to error and unreliable when used to identify users. For as long as browsing the Internet can result in prosecution, there is no real freedom of information and expression on-line.

Nobody has a right to record everything we do and say on-line. Generation Internet has a right to access information online just as unmonitored and without inhibition as our parents read the paper, listened to the radio or browsed books.

[…] The blanket retention of communications data having been rejected as a disproportionate interference with our fundamental right to privacy, recording the content of our online behaviour should be dismissed even more so.”

Yesterday, August 12th, the EU Court of Justice (ECJ)’s Advocate General handed down an opinion on the case (in German). Following the assessment of several similar cases in other countries (Austria, Portugal) the Advocate General agrees that IP addresses are personal data and may be collected only where allowed by data protection law.  The Advocate General did not opine on whether website operators may retain IP addresses in bulk or whether the users privacy rights prevail. EU law does not give specific guidance on the matter.

Breyer believes the European Commission ought to act more directly in enacting laws that will protect online privacy:

“The Commission should amend EU legislation to specifically prohibit any blanket recording of our Internet use by website operators. Europe should reject the ruthless NSA method of ‘collecting it all’ and enforce our right to freedom of information and expression in the digital age […] This Internet stalking is about as useful as hanging a CCTV camera next to an open warehouse door. We need secure IT systems, not a general suspicion against Europe’s 400 million Internet users”.

Featured image: Picture of Patrick Breyer (no copyright) and business vectors designed by Freepik.