European Court of Human Rights delivered judgment on a case concerning processing of personal data
On 9 May 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a judgement on a case concerning the processing of personal data. The Court held that there has been no violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial) or of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In 2013, the Data Protection Board prohibited the applicant religious community from collecting and processing personal data in connection with door-to-door preaching without meeting the general prerequisites specified in the Personal Data Act.
The applicant community appealed to the Administrative Court, which annulled the Board’s decision.
The Data Protection Ombudsman appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. The Supreme Administrative Court sought a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The CJEU held that the applicant community should be considered a controller of the personal data collected in the course of their door-to-door preaching. Therefore, the applicant community must comply with the EU law on the protection of personal data. The Supreme Administrative Court reversed the Administrative Court’s decision, bringing the Data Protection Board’s decision into force.
In its application, the applicant community argued that the domestic proceedings were in violation of Articles 6 (right to a fair trial), 8 (right to respect for private and family life), 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 10 (freedom of expression) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 (general prohibition of discrimination) because of the lack of an oral hearing and of the prohibition on note-taking for personal use without the consent of the persons concerned during door-to-door preaching.
Regarding Article 6, the ECtHR held that as the facts were not contested it was possible to dispense with oral hearing. The Court was satisfied that the legal issues at stake had not required an oral hearing for examination and that the applicant community had had every opportunity to make their arguments in writing. Therefore, dispensing with an oral hearing was justified.
Regarding Article 9, a core question was whether the correct balance had been struck between the freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to respect for private and family life. The ECtHR agreed with the Supreme Administrative Court that data subjects have a reasonable expectation of privacy when personal data and sensitive data are being collected and processed in the course of door-to-door preaching. It held that the consent requirement was an appropriate and necessary safeguard to prevent any disclosure of data inconsistent with the guarantees in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It stated that the requirement to obtain consent did not hinder the applicant community’s freedom of religion. The ECtHR held that the domestic courts had given relevant and sufficient reasons for the necessity to restrict the rights of the applicant community. The domestic authorities had acted within their margin of appreciation in striking a fair balance between the competing interests at stake.
Read the Judgment on the ECtHR website(Link to another website.).
- Krista Oinonen, Agent of the Finnish Government before the ECtHR, Director of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions, tel. +358 295 351 172
- Satu Sistonen, Legal Counsellor, Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions, tel. +358 295 351 789
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