Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Rights Were Not Violated by Finnish DPB

Finland's flag flies against a grey/blue sky

The European Court of Human Right’s (ECHR) has ruled on a case that has been ongoing between the Finnish Data Protection Board (DPB) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The issue at hand was that in 2013 the DPB prohibited Jehovah’s Witnesses from collecting and processing personal data during their door-to-door preaching without complying with data protection legislation.

Following this decision from the DPB, the Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to appeal this decision to the Helsinki Administrative Court and the originally decision by DPB was overturned in 2014. However, the DPB also decided to appeal, this time to the Supreme Administrative Court. A preliminary ruling was requested from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). In 2018 the CJEU decided that the religious community was considered to be a data controller for any data processed from door-to-door preaching. Because of this they were required to comply with data protection legislation. This meant the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the decision of Helsinki Administrative Court and said the DPB’s originally decision must be enforced.

European Court of Human Rights

Following this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to appeal to the ECHR. They stated that the decision violation their rights to:

  • A fair trial
  • Enjoy respect for private and family time
  • Freedom of thought
  • Conscience and religion
  • Freedom of expression

The ECHR considered the appeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their reasoning. However, it was found that the DPB’s decision to prohibit the collection and processing of personal information by Jehovah’s Witnesses was done to protect the right to privacy of data subjects. There was nothing to show that it was done to restrict the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious practices. The original DPB decision was upheld by the ECHR.

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