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IP Address
35.175.182.106
Internet provider
Amazoncom
NOT SECURE
Your Internet provider can track your Internet activity.
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Privacy Laws in Germany

IVPN customers in Germany trust us every day with their increasing demand for privacy and security. Understand why privacy is such an important issue for customers in Germany.

Data Retention by ISPs

Germany enacted one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in 2015 with regard to mandatory data retention by ISPs. Known as the Data Retention Act, legislators used the same convenient reason as usual for its enactment, i.e. to provide law enforcement agencies with electronic data to “combat serious crimes” – yes, and at the expense of the rights to privacy of citizens[1]. The Act requires all public telecommunication and ISPs to retain both call detail records (or CDRs, and which include phone numbers, the date and time of phone calls and texts, the content of text messages, and—for cellular calls—the locations of call participants), as well as the storage of user metadata such as IP addresses, port numbers, and the date and time of Internet access. The Act requires providers to store CDR and metadata for 10 weeks and cell phone location data for four weeks. The Act does provide for extensive technical requirements as to how providers can store all this data – this was a concession made to privacy and human rights advocates[2].

Germany had anyway been under obligation to implement the European Union’s 2006 Data Retention Directive (Directive 2006/24/EC), which requires all German ISPs to retain customer email data, web-browsing history and other data for at least one year after they leave. It’s interesting to note that Germany had dragged its feet with regard to enacting the Directive under German law, failing to even comply with the final deadline for it in April 2012[3]. There had even been calls by some politicians for a ‘data freeze’ policy in legislation, whereby ISPs would only retain customer data if the user was under suspicion by law enforcement.

All of this confusion was further compounded by the an April 2014 decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that declared the European Data Retention Directive to be a gross violation of privacy rights under European law and, therefore, was invalid[4]. The Court made particular reference to the fundamental principle of privacy in its decision[5].

However, Germany certainly made up for any ‘deficiencies’ in its online snooping and the curbing of the online privacy for its citizens by enacting the 2015 Data Retention Act.

Digital Copyright Laws

With regard to online violations regarding copyright, Germany compels ISPs to hand over data of anyone suspected of infringing copyright on a commercial scale. Of note is that in 2013 the German Bundestag passed an addendum to the country’s copyright laws (known as the “Leistungsschutzrecht”), which allows publishers to charge aggregators and search engines for the content they index and re-publish on their sites and on their apps[6]. This was referred to in the press as the ‘Google compromise’ by the German government.

Freedom of Speech and Censorship

Freedom of speech is a complex, highly emotional issue in Germany. Freedom of speech is protected under Article 5 (1) of the German constitution, which states: “Everyone has the right freely to express and to disseminate his opinion by speech, writing and pictures and freely to inform himself from generally accessible sources….There shall be no censorship.” However, these freedoms are immediately curtailed under Article 5 (2), which reads: “These rights are limited by the provision of the general laws, provision of law for the protection of the youth and by the right to inviolability of personal honour”. So, for example, Holocaust denial is prohibited under German law, as is hate speech[7], which these days extend to anti-immigrant views. Therefore, freedom of speech is far from absolute in Germany – and censorship is the winner.

Future Trends

By enacting the much-reviled 2015 Data Retention Act, the German government has made it very clear that it values the rights of law enforcement agencies and the needs of government above the rights to privacy of German citizens. The country’s government shows no intent of reversing this chilling trend going forward.

Our Take

Germany is no longer ‘ambivalent’ about usurping online privacy in favour of greater scrutiny by government agencies. German online users would do well to remember that.

Interested in other countries? See our Comparison of Internet Privacy Laws page.

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