Facebook may prevent its users from using fake names, a German court said on Thursday, overturning a previous order from the Hamburg data protection authority.
The ruling is a coup for the social network firm which has long argued its real-name policy ensures people know who they are sharing and connecting with and protects them from the abuse of the wide-open Internet.
The Hamburg data protection authority, which is responsible for policing Facebook in Germany, said last July that Facebook could not unilaterally change users’ chosen usernames to their real names, nor could it ask them for official identification.
A woman had complained to the Hamburg watchdog after Facebook blocked her account for using a pseudonym, requested a copy of some identification and unilaterally changed her username to her real name.
Forcing users to stick to their genuine names violated their privacy rights, the watchdog mentioned.
The Hamburg Administrative Court ruled Facebook did not have to implement the order for the time being because its European headquarters are in Ireland it should hence only need to abide by Irish law.
A spokesman for Facebook said it couldn’t quickly deliver comment.
In an audit in December 2011, the Irish privacy watchdog concluded Facebook’s genuine name policy did not contravene Irish law and its motives for the policy, such as kid security as well as the prevention of on line harassment, were justified.
Privacy remains a sensitive situation in Germany as a result of substantial surveillance by Communist East Germany’s Stasi secret police and by the Nazi era Gestapo. Memories of espionage have been stirred anew by Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of prying by the U.S. state.