Monday, November 12, 2007

A difficult word

"Datenvorratsspeicherung" is a difficult word - even for someone like me, whose native language happens to be German. Well, German does have other difficult words, but, apart from being difficult to remember, pronounce and speak correctly, this word's meaning also is problematic.

This long word (which I'm not going to repeat) stands for the saving of data (in this case: the emails and page-views) of all people living in Germany for a certain amount of time. Normally such a collection of data is only allowed if someone is suspected to have done something criminal, but with a new law, the government wants to have instant access to the data of all people in this country - as if we've all done something criminal, at least potentially.

Germany has very strict laws as to what kind of data the law enforcement agencies have access to and what kind of data can be saved for a certain amount of time. Most data is not saved for the government, but for either the citizens or some company. For example, my telecommunications company has to save my connections for a certain length of time, just in case I don't pay my bills because I'm sure I haven't made all those calls. Then they have to prove I have. Companies can also find out whether I've ever taken a loan I couldn't pay back and other stuff like that.

But access to such data is limited. I, for example, can not find out whether or not my neighbour has ever taken a loan and not paid it back - the landlord, on the other hand, can ask for that data and will receive it. You have to have a good reason to get that data.

Now, what about that new law and all the data stored?

First of all, as people fear, it will make internet access more expensive - because the companies have to stock up on their storage in order to keep all that data stored.

But what makes it harder on most people is the idea that every movement in the net will be watched. The government will be able to determine exactly which sites every citizen has visited, no matter whether it's the person's own blog, a porn site, a site with 'forbidden' context (like neo-Nazi propaganda) or anything else. And, in addition, every email will be saved as well, no matter whether it's the application for a job, a letter to a friend or a complaint about a TV-program (or other stuff).

The net-outcome will be rather low. It's true, modern terrorists use the net for communication and planning - but then, the easiest way to stop the state from finding out will be using the servers of other countries to go online. I can not imagine Russia, for example, going through the same strict data storage. From what I've learned from various other people, not even all servers used there are registered. And then there's such a thing as broken links. For example the link to the first blog I've ever read one day suddenly led to a porn site instead. The same could, theoretically, lead to an innocent citizen suddenly landing on the site of a Muslim terrorist group. Can it then be proven that said citizen landed there by accident? Or will he or she be persecuted for such a mistake?

Or maybe an email could contain keywords associated with terrorist groups, but mean something completely different. Nevertheless, and for no other reason, the email will be read.

And how far will they go? Will they follow everyone who has ever said something bad about the government - in that case I'm done for, I guess.

Difficult words are not to be trusted, no matter in which language, that much is for sure.

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