In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Finland (31172/19, 9.5.2023), a Finnish religious community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, complained inter alia under Article 9 of the Convention (religious freedom) about an order prohibiting any notes being taken by individual Jehovah’s Witnesses for their personal use in the context of their door-to-door preaching activities without the consent of the data subject.
The requirement of consent by the data subject is laid down in Article 7 of the Data Protection Directive (95/46) which was transposed into the Finnish legal system through inter alia the Personal Data Act. The latter was relied on by the Finnish administrative courts when confirming the impugned order. In this context, the Supreme Administrative Court asked for a preliminary ruling in which the CJEU confirmed that the Data Protection Directive could be applied to the facts of the case.
In its judgment, the ECtHR extensively relied on that ruling by the CJEU. It also noted in this connection:
The Court observes that the Personal Data Act transposed the Data Protection Directive into Finnish law (see paragraph 14 above). Before the Supreme Administrative Court reached its final conclusion on the matter, it sought guidance from the CJEU on the interpretation of the Data Protection Directive. The Court has regularly emphasised the importance, for the protection of fundamental rights in the EU, of the judicial dialogue conducted between the domestic courts of EU member States and the CJEU in the form of references from the former for preliminary rulings by the latter (see Bosphorus Hava Yolları Turizm ve Ticaret Anonim Şirketi v. Ireland [GC], no. 45036/98, § 164, ECHR 2005‑VI; Avotiņš v. Latvia [GC], no. 17502/07, §§ 105 and 109, ECHR 2016; and Satakunnan Markkinapörssi Oy and Satamedia Oy, cited above, § 150). (§ 85)
On the central issue in the case, i.e. the requirement of consent by the data subject, as prescribed by Article 7 of the Data Protection Directive, the ECtHR held:
The requirement of consent by the data subject is to be considered an appropriate and necessary safeguard with a view to preventing any communication or disclosure of personal and sensitive data inconsistent with the guarantees in Article 8 of the Convention in the context of door‑to‑door preaching by individual Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the absence of any convincing arguments by the applicant community, the Court cannot discern how simply asking for, and receiving, the data subject’s consent would hinder the essence of the applicant community’s freedom of religion. (§ 95)