This January 28 marks International Privacy Day. Different countries around the world are celebrating this day with their own events. This year, we are honoring the day by calling attention to recent international privacy threats and interviewing data protection authorities, government officials, and activists to gain insight into various aspects of privacy rights and related legislation in their own respective countries.
We have interviewed Malte Spitz, a German politician and privacy advocate. Malte is well-known for using German privacy law—which, like the law of many European countries, gives individuals a right to see what private companies know about them—to force his cell phone carrier to reveal what it knew about him.
We asked Malte about his long-standing commitment fighting surveillance in Germany.
What has been your major accomplishment in upholding user privacy? (If you would like, you may provide us with any links to additional information)?
My fight against mandatory data retention has been a long and ongoing protest. With the visualization and publication of my personal data in 2011 we reached a new dimension in the protest and in public awareness (http://www.zeit.de/datenschutz/malte-spitz-data-retention). Many people have realized how far-reaching this legislation is, since everybody is affected. And everybody can realize what is going on and to what extent phone companies are collecting and storing personal information.
What do you think will be the major threats to privacy in 2012?
I think the threats will stay the same. We have an ongoing process where private companies try to get as much information as possible to profile and categorize people, not only through online information, but in every area of your life. At the same time government institutions are learning more and more that they don't need to collect and store information, since they can often gain access through private companies quite easily.
In the consumer privacy and data protection realm, what is the most important legislative and/or policy effort for 2012 that will affect citizens' privacy rights in your country? Do you foresee any major challenges to these efforts?
The EU wants to present a new EU Data Protection directive, after the last directive from 1995, everybody looks forward to this. In Germany the Government formed by conservatives and liberals don't want to touch the issue to modernize the German data protection legislation.
In your opinion, what is/are the most important legislative or policy effort(s) impacting citizen's privacy vis-a-vis the government in 2012?
In Germany, the debate about mandatory data retention is still a major issue - even after a ruling of the constitutional court in 2010 decided that the German implementation law of the EU directive was unconstitutional, since the two largest political parties are in favour of these measures and want to implement new laws on this. The year 2012 will be most important in this debate, since the EU commission wants to present a revised directive on mandatory data retention. This year, German legislators will have to make it clear where they stand on that issue.
In your opinion has there been any major cases of law enforcement abuse in 2011? If so, please provide some details.
In February 2011 during a big and peaceful anti-nazi demonstration in Dresden against a Nazi deployment through the city center, the local police collected phone and location data of several hundred thousand people. In defiance of German law, the police have stored this information. Everyone who was in a certain part of the city of Dresden at a certain time was affected by these measures.
This is a guest blogpost. We do not necessarily endorse the views expressed. (in italics)