Europe’s top court is set to answer a question that seems to be as old as the Internet: Are IP addresses personal data?
Germany’s Federal Court of Justice was scheduled to rule on this Tuesday, but instead decided to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The answer to the question is crucial for ongoing discussions about the EU data protection reform as well as for the many websites that track and store users’ IP addresses, the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) said.
Moreover, if the CJEU rules that IP addresses are personal data, this could have huge consequences for the ease of use of the Internet in Europe. Under German law, personal data may only be stored with a user’s consent or for the purposes of billing and such. If IP addresses are considered personal data though, one of the possible consequence could be that Internet users would have to give their consent to store their address every time they visit a website, or alternatively, that websites would have to start storing them on a different legal basis, the VZBV said.
The case was brought Patrick Breyer, a German human rights activist who sued the German government for violating his privacy by storing his IP address longer than strictly necessary.
When Internet users visit German government sites, their IP addresses are stored along with the time when they visited a certain page. The government stores this data in a log file in order to track down and prosecute unlawful hacking, the Federal Court said.