Decision from bad hersfeld: family judge gives whatsapp a lesson

Who uses Whatsapp, has to reveal many secrets. Photo: dpa

A decision by the Bad Hersfeld district court disturbs the Whatsapp community on the Internet. There is talk of possible waves of warnings that users of the messenger service will receive. Is it really like that?

Bad Hersfeld – In times of American presidents who trumpet their sensitivities on 140 characters every quarter of an hour, in times of like buttons and "share" functions, in these times things sometimes come to light that used to be deep Drawers would have died the slow death of oblivion. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes it creates confusion.

The decision of the Bad Hersfeld District Court certainly belongs to the second category. On Tuesday, what a family judge decided in the small town of Hesse spread like wildfire: that a mother is obliged to obtain written consent from all contacts stored in her eleven-year-old son’s smartphone. She has two months for this. The reason for this is that the boy uses the Whatsapp messenger service. Whatsapp requires the automatic comparison of data from the contact directory. The family judge says it is illegal without the contacts’ written consent.

The decision has no generally binding effect

It didn’t take long, and headlines have sprung up in the virtual world that suggest that all WhatsApp users are now threatened with a warning. There is even talk of a wave of warnings, albeit with question marks. That is quite an exaggeration of what happened there. The Bad Hersfeld District Court is an honorable institution. But it decided an individual case. No regular legal remedy is provided against him because the decision was made by way of interim legal protection. It remains to be seen whether the judge sees the matter in the main or in a possible appeal.

However: The family judge in Bad Hersfeld made an effort. The resolution is 25 pages long. In the 30 years of her activity she has never come across such a detailed explanation, says Michaela Kilian-Bock, the director of the Bad Hersfeld district court. She says that the “young colleague” entered the decision in the Hessian state jurisprudence database without giving any prior notice. Although this is "the usual procedure", with such a sensitive matter it might have been good to "seek advice from experienced colleagues". In any case, the Bad Hersfeld District Court has not had as many media inquiries as on Tuesday for a long time.

The judge uses a back door

The district court director does not want to shake the decision itself, the judicial independence of her colleague. Especially since the judge, as evidenced by the reasoning for the decision, is not a technology refuser using typewriters. On the contrary, the man has a clue. He used the dispute about contact times with their son, whom a divorced couple is carrying, to draw attention to things for which the local court in Bad Hersfeld, rather the legislature in Berlin, is actually responsible.

The fact that Whatsapp requires access to all contacts on the phone as a result of the terms of use, including the numbers of people who do not even know the messenger service, is indeed a state that would be worthy of critical examination. Perhaps the “young colleague” from Bad Hersfeld managed to initiate this.

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