French crime database breaches privacy rights, EU court rules

The human rights court objects to storing data for 20 years in a criminal database when charges were dropped

Storing someone's private information in a crime database for 20 years when charges against that person have been dropped violates privacy rights, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Thursday.

The court ruled in a case brought by a French citizen, Francois Xavier Brunet, against the French government.

Brunet was listed in France's recorded crimes database, known as the STIC system, after his partner had filed a complaint against him with the public prosecutor following a violent argument, the court said. His partner later dropped her complaint, and Brunet filed a request with the prosecutor to delete his information from the database.

The public prosecutor however refused to delete the data, arguing that criminal proceedings against Brunet had been discontinued for reasons other than that there was no offense. Brunet was told he could not appeal this decision, with the result that his private information was set to be retained in the database for 20 years.

Under French law, the public prosecutor is only allowed to delete a personal record in a discontinued case if that decision had been justified by insufficient evidence, according to the EU court, and the prosecutor had applied the law strictly.

However, the public prosecutor did not have the power to assess the appropriateness of retaining such data, and since there was no option to appeal the decision, Brunet had not had a real opportunity to seek the deletion of his data, the court found. Moreover, the rules for storing records in the database as applied in Brunet's case did not strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests at stake, the court ruled.

Therefore retaining his data "could be regarded as a disproportionate breach of Mr Brunets right to respect for his private life and was not necessary in a democratic society," the court ruled. It found this to violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the right to respect for private and family life, the court ruled.

France was ordered to pay Brunet €3,000 (about US$3,900) in damages.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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