ECJ Confirms That IP Addresses Are Personal Data

Author:Van Bael Bellis
Profession:Van Bael & Bellis
 
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On 24 November 2011, the Court of Justice of the EU (the "ECJ") handed down its judgment in case 70/10 Scarlet v. SABAM. In this case, the ECJ was requested to clarify whether national courts could order Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to implement filtering software blocking illegal filesharing in order to protect intellectual property rights (see, for a detailed discussion of the judgment, VBB on Belgian Business Law,, Volume 2011, No. 11, p. 3, available at www.vbb.com).

To answer this question, the ECJ had to strike a balance between the protection of the intellectual property right enjoyed by copyright holders on the one hand and other fundamental rights and freedoms of the parties concerned by the filtering measures. In this context, the ECJ confirmed that IP addresses are personal data as defined by Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data. In particular, the ECJ considered that the filtering system in question may infringe the fundamental rights of the ISPs' customers, namely their right to protection of their personal data. The ECJ held that users' IP addresses are protected personal data "because they allow those users to be precisely identified".

In Belgium, the ECJ judgment will not change the existing practice, as IP addresses are already treated as personal data. Indeed, this view has...

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