IP Address as Personal Data - EU General Advocate's Take on Piracy Problems

An IP (Internet Protocol) address is often regarded as personal information and should be protected as such. In the EU, an IP address is explicitly indicated as personal data according to the International Association of Privacy Professionals. While an IP address is not explicitly defined as personal information in the US Privacy Act, the FTC does indicate that IP address is part of personal information as it can be used to associate with an individual over time.

While it's generally believed that an IP address should be considered private because it can be associated with a device owned by an individual, EU Advocate General who was asked about this matter in relation to anti-piracy has a different opinion. The EU Advocate General did not associate the individual to an IP address which means the data can be used to prove illegal downloads and streams.

The Challenge of Piracy

Piracy is always a big problem as it has cost billions of dollars to media companies worldwide. In the age of the modern internet, piracy is not just related to downloading illegal content as piracy has even reached the level of illegal streaming of various events, especially sports.

France has tried to deal with this problem with their Hadopi Agency and has tried various ways to curb this problem which includes suspension of internet service although it was later rescinded. The rescinded plan to suspend the internet of piracy offenders will require the ISP to reveal the offender's IP Address - considered a breach of data privacy. As the legality of the process is still up for debate especially on the IP address, the country asked the EU Court of Justice for their take. The EU Court of Justice in turn asked the opinion of Maciej Szpunar.

For EU Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, an IP address may be used without data privacy concerns in relation to copyright infringement. However, Maciej Szpunar has made it clear that an IP address in this regard should not be entirely associated with an individual. In his opinion, an IP address is used only as a means of investigation to determine the culprit - which means the individual associated with the IP address is not necessarily the one behind the copyright infringement.

To be clear, the Advocate General of the European Union is not a judge or someone who makes the finality about a specific ruling in the EU. They are rather asked to make an impartial opinion about their interpretation of the rules. While it is only an opinion, these opinions are often considered valuable as they have been appointed specifically to take a closer look at cases.

Double Edged Sword

The EU Court will eventually make a decision based on the information and opinion they receive although it will not be a surprise when they follow the opinion put forward by the Advocate General. This creates a unique challenge going forward when it comes to personal privacy and copyright infringement.

The opinion clearly makes a separation between the IP address and the person associated with the data. The personal actions of an individual will have to be proven with regards to their use of IP addresses. Complainants have to find proof that they actually have a role in copyright infringement aside from their ownership of the IP address.

On the other hand, those who wish to take down illegal downloads and streams could enjoy faster takedown of websites especially when they can prove an IP address is used for illegal downloads and streams. However, they will have to find additional proof to make sure the person associated with the IP address has actual involvement.

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