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Privacy reforms after retired couple had their phone tapped

Huvig v. France  | 1990

Privacy reforms after retired couple had their phone tapped

… the categories of people liable to have their telephones tapped by judicial order and the nature of the offences which may give rise to such an order are nowhere defined.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, April 1990

Background

Jacques and Janine Huvig were a retired couple, who had used to run a fruit-and-vegetable business.  The police tapped their telephone and listened to their conversations, in relation to alleged financial irregularities resulting from their sales.

The powers available for the police to obtain such wire taps were almost limitless. The lack of legal restrictions meant that the police could obtain permission for wire taps on anyone, for almost anything, for a limitless length of time - and then keep the recordings forever.

Mr and Mrs Huvig argued that the extensive powers given to the police to monitor their conversations had breached their right to privacy.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European Court ruled that French law had allowed the police to obtain permission for extremely extensive surveillance on members of the public, without limits on why the surveillance was being carried out, how long it should last or what should be done with the material afterwards. Police surveillance is permitted and necessary in a democratic society, but its limits must be clearly set out in law in order to protect the right to privacy.

Follow-up

In 1991 the law was changed to set limits on when and why an investigating judge may order phone tapping to take place. Phone surveillance is only allowed in sufficiently serious cases and for a limited  duration. The evidence obtained should be properly documented and then destroyed when the time limit for a prosecution has expired. 


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