Class-action lawsuit against data retention in Germany

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Germany might be introducing a law to record connection data from nearly all kinds of digital communication. The governing coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD is planning to pass a law proposed (PDF in German) by the Federal Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries. The law would allow the government to record, among others, who talked to whom on their landline and mobile phones, who text-messaged whom, and even where they were at the time they talked. Same goes for email: The recorded would contain who emailed with whom, anonymous email accounts would be turned illegal.

As all connections would be recorded even without the slightest trace of suspicion, the whole thing is referred to as Vorratsdatenspeicherung (roughly translated) to hoard connection records, data retention. (Thanks for the hint, Markus!).

According to the draft, all those records (and some more) would be kept for a period of six months, all in the name of internal security, of course. An insane amount of data! But what’s even more scary: Not only the German police would have access to this massive pool of connected, mineable data, but also foreign (i.e. American and EU) intelligence services.

It goes without saying that this law would not only fail with its primary goal of helping to fight terrorism. A surveillance network of this scope is a real, tangible threat to freedom of speech and thought and thereby a threat to the whole democratic system. One would think that a state such as Germany would be a bit more sensitive to the importance of privacy – after all, this country has had two restrictive surveillance states in the past.

Not even lawyers, doctors and journalists would be protected from the surveillance.

It’s not hard to imagine what kinds of detailed profiles you can generate from this kind of data. If you know who talked to whom when and where, you can get detailed maps of social networks, of personal movements, of all kinds of private and professional connections. First and foremost, this is dangerous.

The Initiative Stoppt die Vorratsdatenspeicherung (“stop data retention”), backed by a bunch of privacy initiatives and NGOs, plans to file a class-action law suit. Although I only know that the Berlin chapter of the major journalists’ association DJV supports the law suit, I assume other chapters and professional associations do so as well.

If you happen to live or work in Germany in a job that requires even a minimum of privacy, handles sensitive data, or that you feel just shouldn’t be completely exposed to whoever wants to sniff around in your data, you might want to consider joining the lawsuit. I just did.

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