Wed, Jan. 27, 2010

No Internet Fears at Supreme Court

CK - Washington.   German top courts are less fearful of the Internet than German politicians, voters and lower courts. Fearless, and knowledgeable, too. Time and again, they correct knee-jerk reactions from lower courts and parliamentarians.

When a convicted criminal sued a public radio service to have it remove references to his full name in 1993 reports stored online in the station's archive, the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe reversed the lower courts and decided in favor of the radio service on December 15, 2009.

The lower courts assumed that by serving his sentence, the plaintiff had acquired a heightened interest in his constitutionally protected personality rights which outweighed the public interest in learning his identity. The national public radio was supposed to redact its online archives.

The supreme court for civil matters held, however, that German constitutional protections of press freedom outweigh that individual's interest, and that data protection laws do not affect the continued availability of journalistic data properly handled at the time of the crime.

To prevent chilling effects on the press caused by lower courts, the court, in this matter, VI ZR 227/08, clarified its constitutional balancing test. Redaction may still be needed when the crime is insignifant and an ancient report only serves the curious.

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