Facebook Wins Court Challenge In Germany Against Its Real Names Policy

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Facebook has won a court challenge against its real names policy in Germany. Yesterday an administrative court in the North of Germany granted Facebook’s request for “suspensive effect” against a ruling, made by Schleswig-Holstein’s Data Protection Commissioner, that Facebook’s real names policy was violating German and European law. The court ruled that German data protection laws aren’t applicable because Facebook has its European headquarters in Ireland — meaning only (the less stringent) Irish data protection laws apply.

Back in December the German data protection body in question, the ULD (Unabhaengiges Landeszentrum fuer Datenschutz), issued a ruling against Facebook’s real-name policy, arguing that it erodes online freedoms and calling for the site to allow the use of pseudonyms. The ULD said it had received complaints from citizens about Facebook’s policy. It said its aim was to seek clarification of Facebook’s legal position in regards to European data protection law — and its intention was to pursue a “regular lawsuit” against the company.

At the time, Facebook said it planned to “vigorously” fight the ULD’s ruling — and its vigor appears to have paid off, with the Schleswig-Holstein Administrative Court granting it suspensive effect against the ULD’s ruling, meaning its business as usual for Facebook in Germany.

However the ULD said today it intends to appeal. In a press release (translated via Google translate) on Facebook’s court win, entitled ‘Administrative Court of Schleswig granted Facebook free ride’, the ULD said it plans to appeal the court’s decision before the Schleswig-Holstein Higher Administrative Court.

The head of the ULD Thilo Weichert described the court’s rulings in Facebook favour as “more than amazing” and “contradictory”.

The ULD has two weeks to appeal the court’s ruling.

At the time of writing Facebook had not responded to a request for comment. Update: In an emailed statement, a Facebook spokesman said: “We are pleased with the decision of the Administrative Court of Appeals of Schleswig-Holstein. We believe this is a step into the right direction. We hope that our critics will understand that it is the role of individual services to determine their own policies about anonymity within the governing law – for Facebook Ireland, European data protection and Irish law. We therefore feel affirmed that the orders are without merit.”

The news was reported earlier by the AP news agency.