German Constitutional Court rules on access to personal data

By EDRi · March 14, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Deutscher Bundesverfassungsgerichtshof entscheidet über Zugriff auf personenbezogene Daten |]

According to the decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court
(Bundesverfassungsgericht) on 24 February 2012, the law enforcement
authorities must no longer request personal data unless justified by special

The court found that certain provisions in the present Federal
Telecommunications Act concerning the disclosure of telecom user data to law
enforcement agencies violated the German constitution and decided that the
requests of personal data by the law enforcement authorities were not
“proportionate”, being thus in violation of the constitutional right to
informational self-determination.

For instance, the usual practice to determine the owner of IP addresses on
the basis of the Telecommunications Act, is a violation of
telecommunications secrecy.

Therefore, strict conditions must apply when law enforcement authorities and
intelligence agencies ask telecommunications service providers (which may
include hospitals and hotels) to turn over certain user data such as
passwords and PIN codes.

The decision is a result of a case initially brought to court by data
privacy activists in 2005. “It’s a major success that the court has barred
excessive identification by the state of internet users, and that it is
protecting the anonymity of our internet usage,” stated Patrick Breyer, one
of the plaintiffs.

The Court’s decision was welcomed by privacy advocates and organisations.
“The judgment makes it clear that access is permitted on telecommunications
data only while maintaining the secrecy of telecommunications and the
legislature has yet to do some homework. This includes the provision of
information from dynamic IP addresses,” stated the federal commissioner for
data protection Peter Schaar.

The Court requested the Federal Government to revise of the present
provisions of the German Federal Telecommunications Act by 30 June 2013.

Bundesverfassungsgericht Press Release (only in German, 24.02.2012)

Privacy advocates welcome the Constitutional Court decision on the
Telecommunications Act (only in German, 24.02.2012)

German court rules police access to passwords is unconstitutional

Constitutional Court judges give private lessons in data protection (only in
German, 24.02.2012)