“Information Self-Determination” – NOT!

  Germans usually do not tire to remind the rest of the world that data privacy is most important to them, and the German supreme court recently confirmed a human right to “informational self-determination“, which limits the means and circumstances under which authorities (or private parties) may obtain and use data about residents. This right is supposed to be the base for the privacy laws in Germany. Privacy protection goes so far to limit the ability of courts to authorize law enforcement to tap criminal’s homes or gain access to their computers, including most heinous crimes such as pedophilia, genocide, or terrorism.

  Well, those laws and rights do not necessarily apply to goverment itself. There is a growing list of current and future blatant privacy violation practices, that all Germans are objected to by law:

  • The federal tax authorities are finishing the creation of an universal tax ID number scheme, that is pretty much as invasive as the social security scheme in the US.
  • Since 2005, employees of the German IRS may obtain bank account information on any tax payer without a warrant, and without informing the tax payer or their bank. This is done automatically, and the banks (as thus the banks customers) have to pay for this warrent-less scheme.
  • Current plans for extending the national ID card to also include biometric identifiers will create a national database on all residents older than 16 years. 
  • The GEZ (a semi-private collection agency for public broadcast fees) has to be provided by the municipal authorities with any address changes of residents within Germany. In addition, the GEZ has bought information through dubious channels, and correlated this data with their officially obtained information. It is believed that the GEZ has one of the most complete lists of households in Germany.

  In addition there have been outright illegal actions:

  • Earlier this year, the German foreign service (BND) bought stolen financial data on suspected tax evaders from a criminal in Liechtenstein. This data has been admitted in tax courts as regular evidence.
  • The lastest installment is a scheme where Bochum municipal authorities have sold their address change data to professional data merchants, resulting in more than € 200,000 revenues. Neighboring Gelsenkirchen made about € 170,000 by selling the data that residents have to provide to city and state government by law.

  These list could be continued for some time, so I think it is time to dedicate a section in the Hypocrisy article on Wikipedia to the German right to “informational self-determination”.

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