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European Court of Human Rights to decide on complaint against ban on anonymous prepaid mobile phone cards

On Thursday 30 January 2020 the European Court of Human Rights will announce its judgement on a complaint filed by Member of the European Parliament and civil liberties activist Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) against a German law which makes identification compulsory when buying prepaid mobile phone SIM cards (case no. 50001/12). Laws to that effect exist in some EU Member States but don’t exist in others. The applicants hope that the Court will recognize their right to anonymous communications and anonymous Internet access.

„A blanket and indiscriminate ban on anonymous prepaid mobile phone cards endangers the freedom of communications and of the Internet“, explains complainant Patrick Breyer. „Anonymity is essential, for example, to press sources, to confidential business dealings, to coordinating political protest, to psychological, medical or legal consultations as well as to self-help groups.“

The European Commission criticised anonymity bans in 2011 as follows: „No evidence has been provided as to the effectiveness of those national measures. Potential limitations have been highlighted, for example, in cases of identity theft or where a SIM card is purchased by a third party or a user roams with a card purchased in a third country.“ The Council of Europe warned that such measures „may not only threaten the privacy of subscribers and users in general, they may also inhibit their freedom of communication since they diminish the degree of anonymity which subscribers and users may wish to avail of when using the telephone by obliging them to reveal their identities“.

„Many EU Member States prosecute crime successfully without a blanket ban on anonymity“, adds Breyer. „As prepaid cards can be passed on or bought anonymously abroad, criminal investigators generally find identification data to be useless. I hope the Court will scrap those ineffective anonymity bans and re-establish our right to anonymous communications and anonymous speech.“

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