Euroopa Inimõiguste Kohus
06.09.1978

Facts

The applicants, several German lawyers, challenged the validity of the law which permitted the State authorities to open and inspect mail and listen to telephone conversations in order to protect State security. The applicants challenged the legislation on the grounds that it contained no requirement to notify the persons after the surveillance had ceased and that it excluded any remedy before the courts against the ordering and implementation of the measures.

Complaint

The applicants argued that the law itself violated their right to private life.

Court's ruling

The Court ruled that the applicants’ right to private life had not been violated, as there existed adequate and effective guarantees against abuse of the system of surveillance and thus the interference was found proportionate.

The Court noted as all the persons to whom the law in issue could be applied were under the risk that their correspondence might be intercepted, the law interfered with the applicants’ right to respect for private life and correspondence.

The Court found that:

The interference was prescribed by law and had a legitimate aim - safeguarding national security and preventing disorder or crime.

However, the interference must be proportionate and that relates also to the existence of adequate and effective guarantees against abuse of the system of surveillance. The Court found that the law contained strict rules on how and in which occasions the surveillance should be applied, and therefore the law provided previously mentioned guarantees. Namely:

  • The decision to order measures must be taken by a Federal Minister or by the supreme Land authority. Accordingly, there exists a procedure designed to ensure that measures are not ordered without due and proper consideration;
  • The measures could remain in force for a limited period of time and could be renewed only on a fresh application;
  • The measures must immediately be discontinued once the measures were no longer necessary;
  • All data must be destroyed as soon as they are no longer needed to achieve the legitimate purpose.

A subsequent notification to each individual affected by the measure might jeopardize the long-term purpose that originally prompted the surveillance. Moreover, such notification might serve to reveal the working methods and fields of operation of the intelligence services and even possibly to identify their agents. Therefore the lack of such notifications system was found proportionate.