Gaughran v. the United Kingdom (Application No. 45245/15)

14 February 2020

The European Court of Human Rights (the Court) upheld yesterday that the indefinite retention of personal data ( DNA profile, fingerprints and photograph) in the Gaughran case was a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Fergus Gaughran who is a British national was arrested for drink driving that is an offence punishable by imprisonment, known as a recordable offence.  In the police station, he provided a breath sample which came up positive so that the police took his photograph, fingerprints and a DNA sample (in 2008).

His DNA sample was destroyed in 2015 at his request. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (“the PSNI”) continues to retain on an indefinite basis the DNA profile (digital data) extracted from his DNA sample, his fingerprints and photograph. He unsuccessfully challenged the PSNI’s continued retention of his data in the domestic courts.

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 20 October 2015.

The Court examined whether the interference in the applicant’s privacy rights had been justified, reiterating that the national authorities had to be given leeway (“margin of appreciation”) when making that assessment.

It was held that the applicant’s biometric data and photographs had been retained without reference to the seriousness of his offence and without regard to any continuing need to retain that data indefinitely. Moreover, the police in Northern Ireland were only empowered to delete biometric data and photographs in exceptional circumstances so that the applicant could not request a review of the retention of his data.

The court therefore concluded that the respondent State had therefore overstepped the acceptable margin of appreciation and the retention at issue constituted a disproportionate interference with the applicant’s right to respect for private life, which could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.

You can find the text of the decision here.

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Kind regards,

Zumbul Attorneys-at-Law