Privacy-penalty for French Scientology critic

By EDRi · March 11, 2004

In France the owner of a website was convicted to pay a penalty of 450
Euro for publishing personal data without first registering with the Data
Protection Authority, the CNIL. On 25 February the appeal-court of Lyon
confirmed the earlier ruling, even though the judges decided to suspend
payment of the penalty.

Remarkably the website-owner, Roger Gonnet, is a former member of
Scientology who denounces the organisation as a cult and mentions names
and other data about members on his website. One of these members
complained. The first court ordered him to pay a penalty of 450 Euro, plus
450 Euro compensation for attorney costs and a symbolical 1 Euro
compensation for general damages. The appeal-court rejected the extra
compensation, because the plaintiff could not prove the damages.

The ruling confirms that omitting to declare processing of personal data
with the DPA is a punishable act (Article 226-16 of the French penal code)
and judges must rule accordingly, even though they have the liberty to
suspend payment under specific circumstances.

The Church of Scientology is notorious for using copyright-claims to
stifle critics. Using privacy-arguments for this same purpose is a new
kind of strategy. In France, Scientology is not acknowledged as a
religion. According to a parliamentary report, they are a dangerous cult.

French Data Protection legislation (dating from 1978, none of the European
Privacy Directives have yet been fully implemented) obliges all owners of
websites to register any processing of personal data before they put
anything online. The CNIL website offers a very detailed website
declaration form.

Website Scientology critic

Analysis of and access to the case (in French, 08.03.2004)

CNIL Website declaration form