When it comes to defending online privacy not all governments, and indeed not all populations, are born equal. Nowhere is this most apparent than when looking at Germany and other European Union countries. Despite Germany’s role at the very heart of the EU, and despite the EU continually trying erode online freedoms, Germany’s government and legal system has taken a defiant stand on a number of online privacy issues, while the German people have been vociferous in their opposition to online privacy violation. So is Germany the most online privacy-conscious country in the western world? We’ve rounded-up five examples of why they might be considered so.
Data retention block
Germany has steadfastly refused to implement the European Union’s Data Retention Directive. The directive requires all ISPs to store customer data – including information such email logs and what websites you’ve visited – for between 6-12 months after you cancel your subscription. The vast majority of the EU countries have already implemented the law. However, the German Constitutional Court deemed the directive unconstitutional. The European Commission is now taking the German government to court and is threatening to impose fines. Romania and the Czech Republic have also refused to implement the laws.
Despite Germany refusing to implement the above Data Retention Direction, it’s been recently alleged that the German arm of UK telco Vodafone has been retaining customer data. Rather than take this lying down, German Vodafone customers are now suing the ISP. Lawyer Meinhard Starostik has already sent a cease and desist letter on behalf of his client, and says other ISPs may face similar lawsuits. The action was taken after the Working Group on Data Retention issued a call to action, seeking users who want to complain about the practice. For its part, Vodafone say that its data storage practices are not illegal, because they’re needed for billing purposes.
Back in March a German regional court ruled that Facebook’s use of user content and its Friend Finder feature violate privacy laws. German consumer rights groups brought the case to court back in 2010, arguing that users should retain ownership of their personal data. Under current rules, Facebook has the right to use personal data for purposes other than those intended by the user. The group also said Facebook needs to make it clear that using Friend Finder means you’ll import your entire address book from another service. The judge ruled in favour of the consumer rights group on all counts, requesting Facebook change its terms and conditions and comply with German data protection rules. Facebook has a month to comply with the ruling.
When Google Streetview announced its intention to document Germany’s streets there was something of an outcry from privacy conscious citizens. The furore led to the German government forcing Google into negotiations, which resulted in 244,240 German home owners being given the right to have their property removed from Streetview. Some citizens also tried to pre-emptively sue Google to stop the search giant photographing their houses, but the lawsuits were unsuccessful.
Germans were not the only EU citizens to protest ACTA, but they were some of most vocal. Germany also wasn’t the first government to oppose the act. Both Latvia and Poland refused to sign ACTA before Germany. But it wasn’t until the German government put its foot down that European Commission took serious notice. Given that it’s the largest EU economy, Germany’s decision was effectively a veto and left ACTA in tatters. Although that’s not to say the legislation won’t make a comeback.