In a move that will (hopefully) send shivers down the spines UK-based corporate legal bullies such as ACS:Law, a notorious anti-piracy tracking company from Switzerland has been told to stop harvesting the IP addresses of citizens using file-sharing networks.
According to a ruling by the Swiss High Court, IP addresses constitute personal information – so when the company, Logistep, gathered them, it was breaching Swiss privacy laws.
Logistep was instrumental in the shutting down of popular files-sharing site eDonkey.
File-sharing news site TorrentFreak reports that story of the legal dispute began in France in 2007, where Logistep’s lawyer Elizabeth Martin had been sending out hundreds of letters accusing Internet users of illegally downloading the game Call of Juarez – and threatening legal action unless the users paid substantial cash demands.
The technique is similar to that used by ACS:Law, the subject of recent legal action in the UK.
The French Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertés (National Commission for Computing and Freedom) declared Martin’s activities illegal. As a result of a legal disciplinary investigation, Martin was banned from practising for six months and barred from belonging to lawyers’ professional associations for ten years.
The situation was mirrored in Switzerland, where the data protection authority Préposé Fédéral à la Protection des Données et à la Transparence (PFPDT) recommended that the company stop harvesting users’ IP addresses.
Logistep ignored the request, and the PFPDT took the matter to the courts.
Initially, things went well for Logistep, with the Federal Administrative Court in June 2009 backing the company’s right to snoop on users.
Undeterred, the PFPDT took the matter to appeal, and on Wednesday 8th September 2010, Switzerland’s Federal Court voted three to two to declare Logistep’s activities illegal. The court also decided to open criminal proceedings against the company.
Sadly, that won’t be the last we’ll see of Logistep, which has already announced it will be shifting its operations to Germany – but the ruling has opened up the possibility of further lawsuits against other Swiss companies accused of collecting users’ IP addresses.
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