Media Law

TV licence fee: data collection rule partially illegal

Since its introduction in January 2013, Germany’s new TV licence fee has been sharply criticised. Now a court in Germany has ruled that the method used to collect citizens’ personal data is partially illegal.

TV licence fee: data collection rule partially illegal © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

TV licence fee: data collection rule partially illegal © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

German TV licence fee

Under the new rules Germany’s television licence fee is calculated per household, regardless of how many people live there or how many televisions or radios there are in the house.

Central administration of the fee is run by ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio under an organisation named “Fee Service”.

The service intends to obtain information to assess citizen’s obligations to pay the TV licence fee by comparing data stored at local registry offices. The comparison of data will take place once during 2013-2014.

It is thought that registry offices will pass on data of up to 70 million adults. Personal data passed on includes: name, date of birth, address and previous addresses, previous last names, marital status and academic title.

An individual in Germany brought a court case claiming that the broad collection of his personal data infringed his personal right to data protection. This right defines an individual’s general right to decide on the use of their personal data. It is derived from the right to freely develop a personality under articles 1(1) and 2(1) of the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

The court in Göttingen Germany agreed with the individual and ruled that the comprehensive collection of citizens’ data violates the right to data protection and is partially illegal (Az. S B 785/13).

Blanket data collection is illegal

The court found that information on marital status, academic title and previous addresses is not required in order to assess citizens’ payment obligations. As a result, such data cannot be transferred.

Also, the court noted that only data from 1st January 2013 is relevant for calculating the fee.

As all other data is necessary in order to determine the level of contribution due, their collection is remains legal.

Nevertheless, the court admitted that the new TV licence fee funding mechanism may further be called into question.

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Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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