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European Court of Human Rights to examine complaint against ban on anonymous prepaid mobile phone cards: Press release, 15 Aug 2012

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A member of the Schleswig-Holstein parliament and a civil liberties activist have filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against a German law which makes identification compulsory when buying prepaid mobile phone SIM cards. Laws to that effect exist in 9 of the 27 EU Member States (Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Spain). The applicants hope that the Court will recognize their right to anonymous communications and anonymous Internet access.

"A blanket and indiscriminate ban on anonymous prepaid mobile phone cards endangers the freedom of communications and of the Internet", explains complainant Patrick Breyer, a Pirate Party Member of the State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein. "Anonymity is essential, for example, to press sources, to confidential business dealings, to coordinating political protest, to psychological, medical or legal consultations as well as to self-help groups."

The European Commission criticised anonymity bans in 2011 as follows: "No evidence has been provided as to the effectiveness of those national measures. Potential limitations have been highlighted, for example, in cases of identity theft or where a SIM card is purchased by a third party or a user roams with a card purchased in a third country."[1] The Council of Europe warned that such measures "may not only threaten the privacy of subscribers and users in general, they may also inhibit their freedom of communication since they diminish the degree of anonymity which subscribers and users may wish to avail of when using the telephone by obliging them to reveal their identities".[2]

"Two thirds of all EU Member States prosecute crime successfully without a blanket ban on anonymity", comments complainant Jonas Breyer. "As prepaid cards can be passed on or bought anonymously abroad, criminal investigators generally find identification data to be useless. The Court should scrap those ineffective anonymity bans and re-establish our right to anonymous communications and anonymous speech."

[1] Evaluation report on Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC) (pdf). Contains country-by-country statistics, see p35.

[2] COE Council of Ministers: protection of personal freedom (pdf)

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