One could have thought that the Conseil d’Etat’s decision invalidating a refusal by the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL-Commission Nationale de l’Information et des Libertés) to anonymize one of its decision, was based on the CNIL’s recommendation regarding the anonymization of personal data on jurisprudence data bases (deliberation n°01-0577 from November 29, 2001) and this because of the ruling of the two joined cases from the Court of Justice of the European Union: C-92/09 and C-93/09 VOLKER UND MARKUS SCHEKE & EIFERT v. Land Hessen from November 9, 2010 (Volker case).

In these cases, Volker und Markus Scheke GbR (VMS), an agricultural undertaking named by the names of natural persons, and Harmut Eifert, a full-time farmer were the beneficiaries of a EU fund. They saw the amount of the fund they received exposed on the website of the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food, with their names mentioned, along with other related information.

Therefore, they brought proceedings to prevent the publication of information identifying them and claimed the protection of article 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union on the respect for private and family life and the protection of personal data.

VMS being here a legal entity, it appears that in principle the legislations on the protection of personal data does not apply, as only natural persons can claim that particular protection. Nevertheless, the CJUE considers that “legal persons can claim the protection of Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter […] only in so far as the official title of the legal person identifies one or more natural persons” (point 53), this being the case for VMS.  It then ruled that, in the present case, for proportionality reasons there was no infringement concerning the fundamental rights when the name of the company, that includes the name of natural persons, was published.

In the April 11, 2013 case that lead the Conseil d’Etat (French supreme administrative court) to sanction the CNIL, on March 11, 2015, the Company E. which created the electronic system was not the one liable for breaches of the Act of January 6, 1978 but Total Raffinage Marketing which used the system. Not being prosecuted, the Company E. asked for its name to be removed from the decision published on the CNIL website and on Legifrance.

The Company E. won the case. The Conseil d’Etat ruled that the CNIL committed an excess of power by not anonymizing the name of Company E.

To conclude, there is still no application of the principle stated in the Volker case on legal entity having a natural persons’ name being able to claim protection of article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.  This said, it is sometimes possible to invoke another basis to request the anonymization of a company name in a legal publication.