Content Regulation / Censorship, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Defamation / Reputation
Hegglin v. Google
Closed Contracts Expression
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This case concerned the publication of details regarding the private sex life of Finland’s then-current Prime Minister. The details were published in a book written by the Prime Minister’s ex-girlfriend. Finnish courts found that the publication breached the Prime Minister’s right to privacy. The European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) agreed.
The Respondent in this case is the public prosecutor of Finland. The Complainant is Susan Ruusunen–the author of a book containing details regarding the private sex life of Finland’s then-current Prime Minister, Mr. Matti Vanhanen.
The Complainant is a divorced single mother with whom the Prime Minister had a relationship while in office. The book concerned the details of her relationship with the Prime Minister, including how the relationship developed, how different their backgrounds were, and details regarding their sex life. The public prosecutor of Finland filed a claim against the publisher after the book was published alleging that the details disclosed in the book violated the Prime Minister’s right to privacy.
The Finnish Courts found for Finland and vacated a portion of the Complainant’s proceeds. In a separate case, the court fined and sanctioned the publisher of the book. The Complainant then lodged the present complaint with the ECtHR, alleging that the Finnish Courts had violated her Article 10 Freedom of Expression as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
In determining whether the Finnish Courts had violated the publisher’s Article 10 Freedom of Expression right by restricting and fining the publication of the Prime Minister’s private life, the ECtHR considered two primary elements: (1) whether the subject matter of the book was a matter of public concern, and (2) if so, whether the public interest in the subject matter outweighed the Prime Minister’s right to privacy.
The ECtHR found that, although the subject matter did concern the public interest (by the mere fact that it concerned an official holding public office at the time), the public’s interest in the Prime Minister’s sex life did not outweigh the Prime Minister’s right to privacy concerning those details.
Thus, the ECtHR agreed with the domestic courts and found no violation of the Complainant’s rights under Article 10 ECHR.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Although the ECtHR protected the Finnish Prime Minister’s right to privacy by upholding the Finnish Courts’ decision to suppress the author’s book containing details of the Prime Minister’s sex life, the ECtHR contracted the freedom of expression concerning public figures. For better or for worse, this case puts ECHR States Parties on notice that, even if a public official’s sex life piques the public’s interest, the official’s right to privacy outweighs a author’s freedom to disclose such details.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
This case has a persuasive effect on ECHR States Parties. It puts ECHR States Parties on notice that, even if a public official’s sex life piques the public’s interest, the official’s right to privacy outweighs an author’s freedom to publicize such details.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.