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Berlin to tighten data protection law amid privacy scandals

German ministers agreed on Thursday to update data protection laws for the digital age in the wake of scandals showing how easily personal details can be bought on the internet.

Berlin to tighten data protection law amid privacy scandals
Photo: DPA

The new dangers were brought home in mid-August when a former call centre worker handed authorities a CD containing the bank details of 17,000 people that he said his employer had procured from a lottery firm.

The whistle-blower, Detlef Tiegel, boasted that he had the details of 1.5 million others, and after a series of similar revelations it became clear that what the 36-year-old had revealed was only the tip of the iceberg.

To test how easy it was to procure personal details, German officials started scouring the internet. In only a few days they managed to buy six million items of personal data – for just €850 ($1,230).

The resulting uproar prompted Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble to call Thursday’s crisis meeting in Berlin on how to update data-protection regulations and reassure consumers that their details were safe.

Those attending included Economy Minister Michael Glos, Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries and Consumer Affairs Minister Horst Seehofer, as well as data protection commissioner Peter Schaar and representatives from Germany’s states.

Schäuble told a news conference after the meeting that the government wanted to make it illegal for data to be passed between firms without the permission of the person concerned. In future an individual’s “express consent” would be needed to pass on information, Schäuble said.

He also said that the government would consider obliging firms whose sales staff approach consumers by phone exactly where they got their contact details from.

Schaar said however that changing the legislation was tricky as much of what currently happens was perfectly legal.

“Although many of the cases that worry us at the moment are illegal, they have legal sources of data as their basis. That means those who have supplied the data, whether they be commercial or local communes, cannot be accused of anything because they have followed the letter of the law,” he said.

“The problem is that in a new world of information technology the data are subject to new uses and risks of abuse. To do something against this means that we should consider whether these hitherto legal sources of data remain appropriate or whether new legal measures should be brought in.”

Firms are also fearful that an over-zealous tightening of regulations could hurt business and damage Germany’s competitiveness.

“The criminal activities of certain individuals should not be used as an excuse to destroy the balance between the need to protect consumers and the justified interests of the economy,” Martin Wansleben, head of the German DIHK federation of chambers of commerce, told the business daily Handelsblatt.

Schäuble said he was all too aware of these concerns and that the government would be “careful to avoid any knee-jerk reactions” and that it would strive to achieve “the right balance.”

He said he hoped to present new legislation to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet by the end of November.

GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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