Wednesday, May 10, 2023

European Court: Finland May Require Jehovah's Witnesses to Obtain Consent Before Taking Notes on Those They Visit

In Jehovah's Witnesses v. Finland, (ECHR, May 9, 2023), the European Court of Human Rights held that Finland's data collection regulations did not infringe the religious freedom protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights of Jehovah's Witnesses who proselytized door-to-door.  At issue was notes taken by Jehovah's Witnesses in the course of their door-to-door preaching identifying those who did not wish to be visited again, and those who are deaf or spoke a foreign language so Witnesses who knew sign language or the relevant foreign language could visit in the future. Finland's Data Protection Ombudsman had held that this personal data could not be collected without the explicit consent of the person in question. Upholding that determination, the court said in part:

The relevant order had been based on the Personal Data Act in force at the time of the proceedings. That law was formulated with sufficient precision and aimed to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The Supreme Administrative Court had taken into account the fact that individuals whose personal data had been collected were entitled to trust that their data were not collected without their knowledge and consent. They also had a legitimate expectation, guaranteed by law, that they would have access to the data and, if necessary, the right to require that the data be corrected or deleted. Ensuring the rights of data subjects therefore inspired confidence rather than distrust in the applicant community’s activities. The consent requirement and the fact that it did not interfere with the core areas of the applicant community’s freedom of religion or freedom of expression had thus been proportionate.

Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.