Wed, Sep. 08, 2004

Phone Customer Data

CS - Bonn   On August 18, 2004, the Thuringia Court of Appeals in case number 2 U 1038/03 upheld a lower court decision to confirm that telephone companies must keep confidential customer data secret if so demanded. The court held that the publication of customer data, such as telephone numbers or addresses, infringes on the right to privacy and, therefore, may entitle them to damages and even, in principle, for damages such as suffering.

The civil claim involves a police officer who had ordered an unpublished number, for security reasons. He argued that he might have to move after the company published his number because he feared threats from delinquents. The officer won before the trial court, but the defendants, a telephone company and a publisher of a local directory, appealed. They argued that their responsibility was insignificant and that the claim for damages was insufficiently substantiated.

The Court of Appeals confirmed that the publication severely violated the right to privacy. It concluded, however, that the infringement was insufficiently severe to justify immaterial damages. Since the companies update annually about one third of their customer entries, a single wrongful publication would constitute only minor negligence. The plaintiff received an award of EUR 1,000 in damages but not for the infringement of his privacy rights and instead for the harm to his health.

The court found the officer to have sufficiently demonstrated health problems such as pain, sleeplessness, and other trauma, as a result of the wrong publication. In addition, the plaintiff would be entitled to compensation for damages that arise in the future as a result of the publication, for instance if the plaintiff would, in fact, need to move. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the plaintiff's desire to change his residence was an immediate and foreseeable result of safety threats caused by the disclosure of his data.

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