Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Defamation / Reputation
Hegglin v. Google
Closed Mixed Outcome
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Switzerland’s Tribunal for Coercive Measures held that a police raid on a journalist’s home violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The journalist published an article detailing a plagiarism scandal at a Swiss university and was facing charges of defamation, slander, and violation of secrecy. The court held the raid constituted a disproportionate interference with the journalist’s right to freedom of expression.
In April 2013, Le Matin journalist, Ludovic Rocchi, published an article revealing an important plagiarism scandal at the University of Neuchâtel. He discovered and published evidence showing that one of the core textbooks used for a Master’s degree in Economics had been plagiarized from different sources, including reports from a non-governmental organization and the French National Assembly.
After one of the University directors pressed charges against Rocchi for defamation, slander, and violation of secrecy, Neuchâtel Prosecutor, Nicolas Auber, ordered a raid to be conducted at Rocchi’s home. The police searched Rocchi’s house, as well as a hotel where he had been staying, and seized computers and other materials. Rocchi asked for the items to be sealed in order to prevent the Prosecutor from accessing his files without the court’s permission. Journalists and editorial associations condemned the raid as a very heavy-handed move, one that could have jeopardized the protection and anonymity of sources.
Rocchi first brought his case before the Appeals Court in Neuchâtel, which held that the police raid on his home was illegal. The Prosecutor filed an appeal of this decision with the Federal Tribunal, where it was annulled before being sent to the Tribunal for Coercive Measures.
The Tribunal for Coercive Measures affirmed that the raid on Rocchi’s home and hotel room was illegal and ordered restitution for the seized equipment. Rocchi had claimed that the raid and seizure had violated his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR. In its decision, the Tribunal recalled that European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence considers the protection of sources indispensable in order to allow the press to play its role of “watchdog.” Without such protections, journalists could be discouraged from informing the public on matters of general interest. The Tribunal also found that Switzerland’s interference with freedom of expression was unnecessary and not proportionate to the infraction allegedly committed by the journalist.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision of the Swiss court is in line with past ECtHR interpretations of the protections under Article 10 of the ECHR, affirming that even when authorities have a legitimate aim for interfering with the right to freedom of expression, such interference should be strictly necessary and proportionate to the aims pursued.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
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