Court: Russian customs’ copying of photojournalist’s laptop files breached human rights law

A photo-journalist suffered a human rights breach when a Russian customs official copied files from his laptop computer.

In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Ivashchenko v. Russia (application no. 61064/10) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the European Court held that Russia was to pay the applicant Yuriy Nikolayevich, 3,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,700 in respect of costs and expenses.

The court found that customs rules on inspecting goods and other regulations had not provided any legal basis for copying electronic data in a laptop.

There had been no requirement to assess whether the measure was proportionate and it had been carried out without there being a reasonable suspicion of an offence. The data had been inspected under anti-extremism legislation but the courts had made no effort to define the terms under that law or apply them to the facts.

The case had highlighted deficiencies in the legal framework for such inspections. The domestic authorities, including the courts, had not had to give proper reasons for justifying the copying of the data, there had been no requirement to check whether the measure had pursued any legitimate aim in a proportionate manner and no consideration had been given to the fact that the applicant had been carrying journalistic material.

In August 2009, Ivashchenko, a photojournalist, was stopped for checks by Russian customs officers as he returned from the disputed region of Abkhazia, where he had been preparing an article.

An officer decided to carry out an inspection of his bags and equipment on the grounds that he might be carrying banned extremist content, in violation of a 1995 presidential decree.

Thirtyfour folders including over 16,300 files were eventually copied from his laptop and transferred to DVDs. Ivashchenko stated that personal correspondence was also copied.

The DVDs were handed over to him in November 2011 after a criminal forensics expert found that there was no extremist material in the files.

Ivashchenko challenged the customs officials’ acts in court but his complaint was dismissed at first-instance and on appeal.


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