ECHR judgment of 13 February 2020 in the case of Gaughran v. The United Kingdom (application no. 45245/15).
In 2015, the complainants were assisted in preparing their application. The application was subsequently communicated to the United Kingdom.
The case successfully addressed an application about the indiscriminate nature of the authority of the United Kingdom authorities to store DNA, fingerprints and photographs of the applicant as a convicted person, regardless of the gravity of the crime committed by him or the need to store this information indefinitely and in the absence of any real possibility revision of the decision. The case violated the requirements of Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant was convicted of a minor offense in Northern Ireland. He complained that the police could keep his DNA, fingerprints and photographs indefinitely.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
Compliance with Article 8 of the Convention. The possession of the applicant's DNA and fingerprints amounted to an interference with his privacy. Given that the applicant's photograph was taken after his arrest and that its storage in the local police database was not limited to any length of time, which allowed the police to use facial recognition techniques, photographing and storing the applicant's photograph also constituted an interference with his right to personal respect. life.
The interference was prescribed by law and pursued the legitimate aim of preventing the commission of crimes. Where the initial acquisition of this information was intended to establish a link between a person and a specific crime of which that person was suspected, the storage of this information pursued a broader purpose: to facilitate the identification of persons who may commit crimes in the future.
When determining the storage period for biometric data of convicted persons, the limits of the authorities' discretion are narrowed. However, the length of the retention period is not necessarily decisive in deciding whether the respondent Government has overstepped the margin of appreciation in establishing the relevant regime. However, consideration should also be given to whether the gravity of the offense and the need for data storage, as well as the guarantees provided to the person concerned, were taken into account. When the authorities of the respondent State are on the border of the margin of appreciation, granting themselves broad powers to retain data for an indefinite period, the existence and functioning of some safeguards becomes crucial.
The United Kingdom government argued that the more information was stored in the police database, the more crimes could be prevented. Accepting this argument in the context of perpetual data storage would in practice be tantamount to justifying the storage of information about the entire population and about deceased persons, which would definitely be excessive and unnecessary. The United Kingdom authorities also stressed the high likelihood that previously convicted persons would be brought back to criminal responsibility within a relatively short two-year period.
The investigation of "deaf cases" is of public interest in the general sense of the fight against crime. However, the police had to carry out their duties in a manner that was compatible with the rights and freedoms of others.
Having opted for an indefinite retention period, the UK authorities had to ensure that some safeguards were in place and effective for an applicant convicted of a crime. However, the applicant's biometric data and photographs were stored without taking into account the gravity of the crime he had committed and the continuing need for indefinite storage. In addition, the police were only allowed to delete biometric data and photographs in exceptional cases. There were no provisions in the legislation that would allow the applicant to request the deletion of data concerning him, if their storage was no longer necessary due to the nature of the crime, the age of the person concerned, the expired statute of limitations and the person's current behavior. Consequently, the scope of revision that a stakeholder could obtain was so narrow that it was almost hypothetical.
The non-selective nature of the power to retain DNA, fingerprints and photographs of the applicant as a convicted person, irrespective of the severity of the crime he committed or the need for indefinite storage of this information, and in the absence of any real possibility of revision, upset the fair balance between competing public and private. interests. The Government's margin of appreciation was slightly wider with regard to the storage of fingerprints and photographs. However, they were not sufficient to conclude that the storage of such data could have been proportionate in the circumstances of the case, namely in the absence of any appropriate guarantees and the possibility of a real revision of this decision.
Consequently, the United Kingdom authorities went beyond their margin of appreciation in this respect and the retention of data contested by the applicant constituted a disproportionate interference with his right to respect for his private life and could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.
There was a violation of Article 8 of the Convention in the case (adopted unanimously).
Application of Article 41 of the Convention. The Court held that a finding of a violation of the Convention would constitute sufficient just satisfaction for non-pecuniary damage.