[menog] [PC World] Is Your IP Address Really Yours? EU Court to Decide the Question

Fahd Batayneh fahd.batayneh at icann.org
Sat Nov 1 22:54:52 UTC 2014




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
t=bgh&Art=pm&Datum=2014&Sort=3&nr=69184&pos=0&anz=152>  (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
en> ' IP addresses, the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV)


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.


Breyer however argued that websites can also be safe without tracking every
user across every page. This "Internet stalking" is about as useful as
hanging a security camera next to an open warehouse door
<http://www.patrick-breyer.de/?p=557008> , he said. "We need secure IT
systems, not a general suspicion against Germany's 50 million Internet
users," he said.


Breyer wants the government to refrain from storing his IP address longer
than the time he is active on the website. Because the address can be linked
to him, this is personal data, and he did not give his consent to be
tracked. "If my complaint is successful, all other Internet users will be
protected from recording of their surfing behavior," he said.


One of the problems in determining whether IP addresses are actually
personal data though, is that Internet users don't always use the same,
static IP address. ISPs rather assign dynamic IP addresses to users from a
pool, meaning a user's address will change from time to time.


However, according to research by the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure
Information Technology on Web tracking published in February, 72 percent of
Internet users have the same IP address for two weeks
orts/Web_Tracking_Report_2014.pdf> . And even when it is changed, trackers
might recognize that by combining other data with the IP address. This kind
of data cannot be considered anonymous, the researchers found.


The final legal word on the matter will come from the CJEU, and that process
that could take many months.

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