A growing number of media disputes in Austria are coming before the European Court of Human Rights. Efforts to reform the press law through a government-sponsored working group have not advanced much. Austria, like other European countries, has also begun to incorporate European Union anti-terrorism directives into local law, to allow spying on e-mail, personal data retention and tapping of phones.
Six freedom of expression cases in Austria were taken in 2007 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which ruled in four of them that article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention (guaranteeing freedom of expression) had been seriously violated. This brought to 13 the number of such rulings against Austria since 2000, putting the country in second place after Turkey and ahead of Russia.
The most significant cases were those involving the weeklies Falter and News. The ECHR awarded Falter €9,000 damages as well as costs on 22 February and condemned a July 2003 Austrian court decision against the paper for an article about legal action against members of the extreme right Austrian Freedom Party for abuse of power. The paper was sued by the party’s Vienna leader, Hilmar Kabas.
Austria was also condemned by the ECHR the same day for a December 2001 Vienna court decision awarding €800 damages against the weekly paper News and imposing a suspended €1,450 fine on reporter Rainer Nikowitz for a September 2001 article about a dispute between two skiers. One of them, Stefan Eberharter, sued the paper and the journalist, who lost their appeals. The ECHR struck down these decisions and awarded €7,058 in damages to Nikowitz and €4,831 to the paper.
Austria has begun to amend its "Security Police Law" to incorporate European Union directives on terrorism, authorising police to intercept e-mail, tap people’s phones and force retention of customers’ personal data by Internet service providers, who must now provide it (along with embedded computer addresses, IPs) on police demand, without waiting for a court order. Phone companies must also supply such details without a court order.