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Privacy laws strengthened after a lawyer’s phone calls were intercepted

Kopp v. Switzerland  | 1998

Privacy laws strengthened after a lawyer’s phone calls were intercepted

Mr Kopp … did not enjoy the minimum degree of protection required by the rule of law in a democratic society.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, 25th March 1998 - © Photo Lys Wiedmer-Zingg

Background

Hans Kopp was a lawyer. The authorities tapped the telephone lines of his firm during an investigation into his wife. The investigation discovered no evidence of wrongdoing. However, the authorities had recorded private legal conversations between Mr Kopp, his law partners and their clients. Mr Kopp complained that this had violated his rights and the rights of his clients, given the need to keep professional legal conversations confidential.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

Swiss law did not clearly define which conversations the authorities were allowed to intercept between a lawyer and his/her clients, or set up a process where this could be supervised by a judge. This meant that the government had too much scope to intercept confidential communications, violating Mr Kopp’s right to privacy. 

Follow-up

A new law on telephone tapping was adopted in 2000. This clearly set out when telephone calls may be intercepted, clarified the scope and organisation of any monitoring, and specified the procedures to be complied with. It included special protections for people bound by professional confidentiality.