German Pirates take battle for right to mobile anonymity to European Court of Human Rights

Members of the German Pirate Party are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to overturn a German ruling that prevents pre-paid phones being bought anonymously.
Written by Jakob Jung, Contributor on

Members of Germany's Pirate Party, Piraten Partei, are protesting against the ban on sales of anonymous pre-paid SIM cards in the country.

Following an appeal by Patrick Breyer, an MP for the Pirate Party in the Schleswig-Holstein regional parliament, and his brother Jonas Breyer, the German constitutional court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) confirmed in January that the country's law requires consumers to show ID when buying pre-paid SIMs. The Breyer brothers had sought to get the anonymous purchase of SIM cards allowed on the grounds that preventing their sale inhibits freedom of communication.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Undaunted by their defeat, the brothers are now appealing to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to overturn the ruling. The European Court has accepted the case but warned that a decision could take three years.

The misuse of pre-paid phones has led prisons in Germany to set up safety nets on top of their walls after pre-paid phones were tossed over the walls to allow inmates to make calls without the prison's knowledge.

Patrick Breyer has refuted claims that banning anonymous pre-paid phones can help the police track down criminals: "Two-thirds of EU member states successfully fight crime without a ban on anonymous pre-paid cards," he said.

Anonymity is important for protecting journalistic sources or confidential business dealings, as well as helping those who wish to keep medical or psychological conditions secret, Breyer said. The prohibition of anonymity is both useless and dangerous, he added.

Breyer has received support from Germany's top data protection official Georg Schaar and the data protection official of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Thilo Weichert. Weichert sees a good chance of achieving a positive ruling at the European Court in Strasbourg.

The German Piraten Partei was founded in 2006 and is now represented in four German state parliaments.

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