Interpreting the EU laws on privacy

In the preceding blog post, I mentioned the difficulties which arise when trying to work out exactly what “personal data” means in UK and EU legal terms. Thanks to the very useful EU Privacy and e-Commerce Alert from Hunton and Williams, I have an example. It concerns a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice, which found in favour of a Mr Huber and against the German Government.

Mr Huber (an Austrian citizen working in Germany) started out by contending that the German Government was discriminating against him (relative to German citizens) by keeping a record of his personal data in a central database of non-residents.

Here’s a quick summary from that part of the case records:

Mr Huber, an Austrian national, moved to Germany in 1996 in order to carry on business there as a self-employed insurance agent. The following data relating to him are stored in the AZR:
– his name, given name, date and place of birth, nationality, marital status, sex;
– a record of his entries into and exits from Germany, and his residence status; – particulars of passports issued to him;
– a record of his previous statements as to domicile; and
– reference numbers issued by the Bundesamt, particulars of the authorities which supplied the data and the reference numbers used by those authorities.

Since he took the view that he was discriminated against by reason of the processing of the data concerning him contained in the AZR, in particular because such a database does not exist in respect of German nationals, Mr Huber requested the deletion of those data on 22 July 2000. That request was rejected on 29 September 2000 by the administrative authority which was responsible for maintaining the AZR at the time.

As it happens, that claim didn’t go anywhere, but Mr Huber pressed on, and the ECJ has now ruled that recording his details in such a database is incompatible with the Data Protection Directive and fails the applicable test of ‘necessity’. I don’t know if the German Government can or will appeal against the ruling.

Rather than recite the rest of the case, I’ll let you link to the judgement if you are interested. Be warned, though, unless you are fluent in Eurospeak (the 24th official language of the European Commission) the references to this or that article, recital or preamble of various Directives will probably make your head spin.

Here, you will find links to three documents about the case.

I recommend you start with the document labelled “Opinion”, as that sets out the basic arguments in more human-readable terms. If that isn’t enough for you, take a deep breath and dive into the “Judgement”. Enjoy.

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