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Finnish court orders Jehovah's Witnesses to end illegal data gathering

Finland's Supreme Administrative Court (KHO) ruled that private data gathering door-to-door by Jehovah’s Witnesses is illegal without prior consent.

File photo of Jehovah's Witnesses. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

The ruling by Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court follows a review of the practice requested from the European Court Justice. In July, the ECJ published its opinion, saying that the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses collecting personal information as members proselytise door-to-door is illegal, because the organisation is effectively compiling a personal data register, which should comply with data protection regulations.

Finland's KHO has now concurred, saying that the creation of name lists and the taking of notes containing personal information during the group's missionary activities always requires the consent of those whose data is being gathered.

The issue has been under scrutiny since 2013, when a data protection board under the Justice Ministry ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses' practice of collecting personal data violated the law. However, that was followed in 2014 by a ruling by the Helsinki Administrative Court that the religious group’s personal register was not illegal.

Following the Supreme Administrative Court's decision to ban the practice, the Interior Ministry's Data Protection Board has now given the Jehovah's Witnesses a six month deadline to ensure that personal information is no longer gathered for the group's own purposes.