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article imageGerman supreme court protects privacy after 35,000 complaints

By R. C. Camphausen     Mar 2, 2010 in Politics
Karlsruhe - Germany's Federal Constitutional Court has overruled a law that let authorities retain data on telephone calls and e-mails. 35,00 Germans had previously complained about the unwarranted intrusion into their personal privacy .
The Karlsruhe-based Federal Constitutional Court, an equivalent to the Supreme Court in other nations, ruled on March 2nd that a 2006 European Union anti-terrorism directive posed a "grave intrusion" to personal privacy rights and must be revised.
Based on an Associated Press report, the Miami Herald - and many other agencies - says that The ruling comes amid a European-wide attempt to set limits on the digital sphere in the name of protecting privacy, that includes disputes with Google Inc. over photographing citizens for its Street View maps and a vote against letting U.S. authorities see European bank transfers to track down terror cells.
(For more background on this, see Digital Journal articles, here and here.)
Apparently having an ear on the ground, with 35,000 individual complaints from German citizens, the court ruled that the law violated people's constitutional right to private correspondence, and that it had failed to balance important privacy rights against the government's need to provide security.
In an article published by the BBC on this matter, one can find an attempt to explain the German view of things by referring to the countries specific history. Oana Lungescu, the BBC's correspondent in Berlin, sees it like this: Having been spied on for decades, first by the Nazis and then by the Stasi, the notorious communist secret police, Germans take their privacy seriously.
An Australian news site news.com.au seems to welcome the news by saying "The German government could count on the support of many countries such as Austria, Sweden and Romania which have refused to implement data retention."
Previously, many civil rights activists had opposed the EU directive that passed into German law, and they naturally welcome the court's decision to limit the powers of an envisaged and feared Orwellian Big Brother state. The Washington Post quotes Germany's federal data protection watchdog, on behalf of which Peter Schaar made the following statement: "The government must not only refrain from collecting data, it must also protect citizens from the excessive gathering of information and building of profiles by the private sector."
Worldwide, it is quite possible that other individuals and organized groups take heart from this decision and make their voices heard in their own countries. The German court's ruling and what preceded it can serve as an example for how to proceed.
More about Grave privacy intrusion, Privacy, Data protection, Supreme court
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