With bad news after bad news when it comes to consumer rights in relation to software and copyright, it’s always refreshing to see that there are still people in high places who aren’t yet bought by big content. Late last week, a major battle was won for consumer rights in Switzerland: Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court has ruled that IP addresses are personal information, and therefore, fall under the country’s strict privacy laws, and may not be used by anti-piracy companies.
Swiss company Logistep AG is an anti-piracy company – a company that collects the IP addresses of file sharers so they may be used in anti-piracy lawsuits. This method has been used in Germany and the UK, and more recently, the method has been used in the US as well in the massive BitTorrent lawsuit currently under way.
However, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC), Hanspeter ThÃ¼r, wasn’t particularly pleased by Logistep’s behaviour. He demanded they cease the collecting of IP addresses, and eventually took the case to court, where a verdict was reached late last week. The Supreme Court sided with ThÃ¼r all the way.
“According to the Federal Supreme Court decision issued in Lausanne on the 8th September 2010, IP addresses are clearly personal data and are thus subject to the Data Protection Act,” FDPIC’s press release reads, “In a majority decision, the Court considers it to be unlawful for private companies to covertly probe IP addresses. The decision by the Federal Supreme Court stated that there was insufficient justification for such practices.”
ThÃ¼r further states that this decision sends “a clear signal regarding the trend on the part of private parties, also noticeable in other fields, to assume tasks clearly in the State’s domain”. So much common sense in a single sentence – this man must be god.
In their own response, Logistep AG states that their behaviour is perfectly legal in many other European countries, and that this decision will make Switzerland a safe haven for copyright infringers, much in the same way the country’s bank secrecy has made it a safe haven for financial tricks.
I just call it common sense, okay? Private institutions should never be able to spy on citizens like this; this is a job for the authorities, which can be steered through the democratic process. Logistep’s behaviour is despicable, and it’s very, very good news that the Swiss Federal Supreme Court sees it that way too. I guess it pays to be neutral.
And to imagine my own country was once neutral too. Ah, one can dream.