ECtHR rules banking data is protected under the Convention

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has unanimously ruled that banking data, irrespective of whether it contains sensitive information, is protected under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in a case in which San Marino judicial authorities seized the banking documents of four Italian nationals.

The decision to seize the documents of MN and others was made at the request of the Italian prosecution authorities in the context of an on-going criminal investigation – not involving the applicants – into money laundering in Italy.

The Court underlined that there was no doubt that banking documents amounted to personal data concerning an individual, irrespective of whether or not they contained sensitive information, and irrespective of who was the owner of the medium on which the information was held.

Such information was, as such, protected under Article 8’s notion of “private life”.

Furthermore, the right to respect for correspondence under Article 8 was also engaged as the seizure order covered the exchange of letters and e-mails.

The Court found that there had been a lack of procedural safeguards under San Marino law, in so far as MN had not been able to contest the search and seizure decision in his regard, following its implementation.

Given that MN had not been charged with any financial wrongdoing nor had he been the owner of the banking institutes searched, he had no standing to contest the seizure, copying and subsequent storage of information retrieved from his bank statements, cheques, fiduciary dispositions and e-mails.

Indeed MN, who was not an accused in the original criminal procedure, had been at a significant disadvantage as compared to the accused in those proceedings or to the possessor of the banking or fiduciary institute, all of whom were entitled to challenge the search and seizure decision. As a result, MN had not enjoyed the effective protection of national law.

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