Feeds

IP addresses in server logs not personal data: Ruling

German court OKs keeping them

High performance access to file storage

A German court has ruled that website operators are allowed to store the internet protocol (IP) addresses of their visitors without violating data protection legislation. Without additional information, IP addresses do not count as personal data, it said.

The issue has never been tested in a UK court but the view of the German court is consistent with guidance (pdf) published last year by the UK's Information Commissioner.

Search engine companies and other web publishing operations store IP addresses in a bid to identify users and their usage patterns. Privacy activists have argued that IP addresses should count as personal data under data protection legislation. Publishers have claimed that while IP addresses can be personal data, they are not always necessarily so.

In a provisional ruling, the district court of Munich has said that when stored by an internet publisher, IP addresses are not personal data under the country's Privacy Act because the information cannot be easily used to determine a person's identity.

The ruling said that an internet service provider (ISP) could not tell a third party who was using a particular IP address at a particular time without a legal basis. ISPs generally do not give out such information except when ordered to do so by a court.

The only other way for a person's identity to be determined by the IP address would be for the information to be transferred to a third party illegally, the court said.

In an automated translation from the German, the ruling said that IP addresses lack the necessary quality of 'determinability' to be personal data. That means that the identity of the person behind the data can be determined without disproportionate burden and using normally available knowledge and tools.

The court said that web publishers, therefore, could store IP addresses in server log files which keep a track of activity on a web page.

The case was brought by an individual who argued that a web publisher's storing of IP addresses in those log files was a privacy violation because the information could be used to identify him and link his identity to his web surfing activity.

The court disagreed and dismissed his arguments.

In 2007 the UK's Information Commissioner published guidance which said that in isolation, IP addresses will not be classed as personal data. They can become personal data, though, when used to build a profile on an individual or in the hands of an ISP.

"In practice, it is difficult to use IP addresses to build up personalised profiles," said the guidance. "Many IP addresses, particularly those allocated to individuals, are 'dynamic'. This means that each time a user connects to their internet service provider (ISP), they are given an IP address, and this will be different each time.

"So if it is only the ISP who can link the IP address to an individual it is difficult to see how the Act can cover collecting dynamic IP addresses without any other identifying or distinguishing information," it said.

The guidance adds: "Some IP addresses are 'static', and these are different. Like some cookies, they can be linked to a particular computer which may then be linked to an individual user. Where a link is established and profiles are created based on static IP addresses, the addresses and the profiles would be personal information and covered by the Act. However, it is not easy to distinguish between dynamic and static IP addresses, so there is limited scope for using them for personalised profiling."

The Article 29 Working Party, the committee of Europe's privacy watchdogs, has said (pdf) that IP addresses should be treated as personal data by ISPs and search engines, even if they are not always personal data.

"Unless the Internet Service Provider is in a position to distinguish with absolute certainty that the data correspond to users that cannot be identified, it will have to treat all IP information as personal data, to be on the safe side. These considerations will apply equally to search engine operators," it said in a report in April.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Whoever you vote for, Google gets in
Report uncovers giant octopus squid of lobbying influence
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.