Court Verdict One strike for law enforcement in cybercrime fight

Germany’s highest court, in a landmark ruling, allowed the government to save the IP addresses of Internet users, closing a long-running legal dispute.

The relationship between data privacy and security is a delicate act of balance in Germany. The country’s highest court has now given a verdict in a legal dispute that has dragged on in the courts since 2008, tilting the balance in favor of security.

The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on Tuesday decided that the German government is allowed to store the IP addresses of Internet users to facilitate the prosecution of potential cybercriminals. The verdict is an important step for Internet service providers who so far were caught between two stools when it comes to defending themselves against cyberattacks.

So-called dynamic IP addresses, which get assigned by the network when a user connects, allow providers to quickly identify a user and connect him or her to potential violations of the law.

Tuesday’s verdict makes it highly unlikely that a suit for injunction against the government by a Berlin privacy advocate from 2008 will have any chances of success. Patrick Breyer, a lawmaker with the Pirate Party, a fringe party fighting against government regulation of the online sphere, had alleged that the storage of IP data was an infringement on privacy.

Acknowledging Mr. Breyer’s claims, the court did not miss to point out that the German government had to provide ample reasoning for why the storage of user data was required to ensure smooth website operations.

But it ultimately came to the conclusion that privacy concerns were outweighed by the importance of law enforcement. “This also includes the considerations of aspects of general prevention and of law enforcement,” presiding judge Gregor Galke explained his verdict, as quoted by news agency Reuters.

The German federal court in 2016 had called on the European Court of Justice for guidance on the matter. The Luxembourg-based judges confirmed that the storage and usage of IP data was permitted even without the user’s approval if that was the only way to ensure the functioning of online services.

Tina Bellon is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: [email protected]