Door-to-door evangelism and data protection: Jehovah’s Witnesses v Finland

In Jehovah’s Witnesses v Finland [2023] ECHR 388, the Data Protection Ombudsman had issued an opinion in 2000 that during the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ door-to-door visits, they could only collect personal data with the consent of the individuals in question. An appeal to the Data Protection Board was unsuccessful, and a further appeal to the Helsinki Administrative Court only partially so, holding that, though the applicant community was not the “controller” of the data in question, the express consent of the person concerned was nevertheless required for the collection and processing of such data.

The Ombudsman appealed in 2015 and in 2016 the Supreme Administrative Court adjourned the proceedings to seek a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union. In 2018 the CJEU ruled that in the course of their evangelising Witnesses made at least some of the data collected “accessible to a potentially unlimited number of persons” and that their data-collection was not, therefore, data-collection for private or household use. In 2018 the Supreme Administrative Court quashed the Helsinki Administrative Court’s annulment of the Board’s decision without an oral hearing – which it decided was unnecessary. It concluded that because door-to-door evangelising was organised, coordinated and encouraged by the Jehovah’s Witness community, the community was therefore the data-controller. Continue reading