Rotaru v. Romania | 2000

Strict rules on the storage and use of communist-era Securitate files

[The court’s verdict] will count for the evolution of our justice system.

Human rights activist, Gabriel Andreescu, quoted on RFE/RL (in Romanian)


The Romanian government revealed false and damaging information about a man who was trying to prove in court that he had been politically persecuted under communism.

In 1993, a Romanian court recognised that Aurel Rotaru had been jailed for his political activities as a young man. It awarded him compensation under a new law allowing victims of communist-era political repression to get justice.

However, as part of their defence, government lawyers had produced a letter from the Romanian Intelligence Service (RIS) saying that Aurel had once been part of a fascist student group.

Aurel said the claim was nonsense. He took legal action to try to get the file corrected or destroyed, and for compensation for the harm caused to him.

The Romanian courts initially decided that the RIS could not be blamed for simply having inherited the old communist-era records.

But after Aurel turned to the European Court of Human Rights, the Romanian government carried out further checks with the RIS. It turned out they had made a mistake. The information was false.

In 1997, a Romanian court overturned the previous decisions relating to Aurel’s legal action against the RIS but did not award him any compensation.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that Romania had breached Aurel’s right to privacy.

In the court’s view, Romanian law lacked proper safeguards against abuses in the storage and use of personal information, including the way the security services handled communist-era records. It was also impossible for Aurel to challenge the storage of his information or the accuracy of it.

Moreover, Romania had breached Aurel’s right to a fair hearing because the Romanian court failed to consider his compensation claim in 1997.

The European court awarded Aurel a considerable sum of money in compensation.


Following the European court’s judgment, the Romanian authorities corrected Aurel’s file so the same mistake could not be made again.

Romania also put in place safeguards around the storage and use of communist-era secret police files.

Before the European court issued its judgment in Aurel’s case, the Romanian government had brought in a law in 1999 giving citizens access to files held on them by the Securitate, the communist-era secret police agency set up in 1948.

The law transferred control of the archives from the RIS to a civilian body, the National Council for Study of the Archives of the Securitate (NCSAS).

However, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers criticised the law – based on the European court’s judgment – because it did not cover personal information collected by Romania’s security services prior to 1948 (as Aurel’s had been). Moreover, parts of the law were later found to be unlawful.

In 2008, the Romanian government replaced the law with a new one, this time covering relevant information collected before 1948. The new law strictly regulated access to such files.

Romania also brought in several laws relating to personal data protection, allowing people to request any data controller, including a public body like the NCSAS, to change information held on them if it is incorrect.

After a series of European court judgments identified problems with the process allowing people to access their files, including excessive delays, the Romanian authorities made some additional technical improvements relating to records management.


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