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Google May Close Gmail Germany Over Privacy Law 368

Matt writes "Google is threatening to shut down the German version of its Gmail service if the German Bundestag passes it's new Internet surveillance law. Peter Fleischer, Google's German privacy representative says the new law would be a severe blow against privacy and would go against Google's practice of also offering anonymous e-mail accounts. If the law is passed then starting 2008, any connection data concerning the internet, phone calls (With position data when cell phones are used), SMS etc. of any German citizen will be saved for 6 months, anonymizing services like Tor will be made illegal."
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Google May Close Gmail Germany Over Privacy Law

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  • Phew! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @11:47AM (#19628137)
    Just when I thought Europe was going to be the last bastion of freedom in the world.

    Congress, look out ... Germany is going to one-up you if you're not careful.
  • China (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2007 @11:54AM (#19628179)
    Yeah, Google will do in Germany what it didn't do in China? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_by_Google# China [wikipedia.org] (OK, not exactly the same thing but you get the point). I won't bet on it.
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:00PM (#19628223)
    According to Brazilian constitution, the right to "personal dignity" always trumps the right to privacy or freedom of expression. You cannot say anything that could be considered "offensive" about anyone, even convicted felons have their right to personal dignity.

    Brazilian ISPs have always had the duty to record and keep everything that's sent by anyone over the internet. If someone feels defamed by anything that can be proved to come from that ISP, the company is held responsible if the author cannot be found. Brazilian judges have always been very, very eager to grant injunctions against any publication of personally derogatory words or images.

    This includes books too, a famous example was a few years ago, when a biography of soccer star Garrincha [guardian.co.uk] was pulled out of bookstores at the request of his daughters. The reason? It was stated in the book, based on his lovers' declarations, that Garrincha's penis was approximately 27 cm (11 inches) long. This book was later released, after an appeals court decided that saying a man has a large penis is not a derogatory statement.

  • Privacy != anonymity (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:05PM (#19628263)

    Maybe I'm missing something, but this law sounds like a storm in a teacup, and this story sounds like yet another PR exercise on behalf of Google.

    Privacy is not the same as anonymity. I have often suggested around here that on-line anonymity may do more harm than good in practice. For the record, that does not mean that I think ISPs should release personal data about their subscribers to just anyone, nor that they should retain such data indefinitely, nor that governments should be able to look up such data on a whim.

    But frankly, I suspect that most people who use anonymising techniques on-line do have something to hide, and that something is usually connected to damaging others. There seem to be way, way, way more instances of spammers, phishing expeditions, fraudsters, character assassins and others taking advantage of the relative inability to enforce laws against Internet-based targets — thanks in large part to the relative anonymity you can easily achieve on-line today — than there are examples of genuinely good things like whistle-blowing and free expression under non-free regimes that might legitimately be protected by anonymity. Clearly there is a fine line here between setting dangerous precedents and undermining what might to some people be a vital tool in the defence of liberty, and pragmatically acting to protect lots of people from things that are actually damaging them right now, and I don't for an instant claim that there is a single right answer to this or that I am 100% convinced what I suggest here would always be the way to go.

    Incidentally, we already have some similar-sounding laws in the UK, as far as the keeping of records go (under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, primarily) and these haven't led to widespread abuse even under the way-too-controlling Blair administration. There are some things in RIPA that really shouldn't be law, but so far this doesn't seem to be one of them.

  • That's rich (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:07PM (#19628279)
    This coming from the company that already stores all search information from all users into a permanent database? This coming from the company that already has software that automatically scans all your emails and stores information about that "for advertising purposes"?

    I guess what they're objecting to isn't the storing of such data, since they already do that. It's the idea of having to share that data with the government.
  • How does germany plan on enforcing this?

    Dude, they one of the largest people moving exercises in history with only the most primitive of computers [amazon.com], I think they could handle easily detectable wireless in 2007.

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
  • by localroger ( 258128 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:32PM (#19628413) Homepage
    Germany already requires licenses for TV sets and things like baby monitors. And they enforce it. They actually have vans equipped with detection equipment that scan for electromagnetic radiation from these devices, and if you're not on record as having paid the tax their is a knock on your door. Extending this to 802.11 will be trivial.
  • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:32PM (#19628415)

    That's true, although it is quite "consistent" with the directive. One of our criticisms was that it is ridiculous to do what the directive requires because there are so many ways around it. Forcing ISPs to record all email from/to data can be worked around by using foreign email providers and tunnelling. Recording from/to data about IP-telephony can't be done without inspecting every single ip packet flowing through your network, and even then only if someone is using a documented protocol without encryption/obfuscation, etc.

    Banning TOR, requiring foreign email providers to play by the rules of the directive etc are minimal requirements for implementing the directive in any "sensible" way, if you look at it from an data retention efficacy perspective.

    So in the end, I am convinced it is perfectly correct to say that this is all because of that EU directive and the horrific combination of fascists and idiots that supported it "to save the children" and to "catch the terrorists".

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:43PM (#19628483) Homepage Journal
    Couldn't Germans just sign up with another countries gmail and then use that? Or is the german government going to force ISPs(which they have a large say in one of the largest ones, Telekom) to block access to gmail? I am an American currently living in Germany and I use my gmail account(which I registered for while I was still a student at Penn State) as my main email address. Would I be affected by this? TFA is pretty light on details.
  • by CptPicard ( 680154 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:58PM (#19628549)
    These kinds of "right not to be offended" laws are among the most ludicrous pieces of legislation you can imagine, sad to hear Brazil has such an extreme case. In Finland we've got a law against "incitement against a group" which sounds harmless enough (you'd fall foul of the law if you went declaring out on the street that you believe Jews/blacks/redheads should be killed, say).

    It's just way too easy for some group to have their sensibilities oh so deeply offended when one even tries to reasonably discuss whether something about them that affects you, too, should be perhaps reconsidered. I like to participate in Finnish language-policy discussions (long story short, the 93% who are Finnish-speakers are supposedly as Swedish-speaking as the 5,5% of them, and if they aren't, they must be made so), and it's incredible how massively offended some Fenno-Swedes can be at the mere suggestion that I happen to be Finnish-speaking, and that no, I don't think it is much of a flaw in my character (or that of my possible children) that needs fixing by state intervention...

    Of course, this offends their dignity much and I've been told on numerous occasions that I'm close to inciting against a group.. :-)
  • by thebigbluecheez ( 1010821 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @01:14PM (#19628627)
    Similarly when you pick up a pre-paid SIM card for your phone, you get a form asking you to register your phone number. You have to go show ID and then the O2 (or whichever) shop keys your information in. They took my passport number, an address, punched it into the computer and said have a nice day. Had I not gone in and registered my SIM card? Phone number goes dead in two weeks, no questions asked.

    Compare this to the 'States, where getting pre-paid service is about as anonymous as a cell phone gets.

    Does anyone (any Germans in the house?) know what they DO with this? Why is it required to register my phone? Why?
  • Re:Phew! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by octopus72 ( 936841 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @01:27PM (#19628707)
    Fortunately, it is irrelevant where Tor server actually runs :)
    It seems that idea of such directives is to prevent common case of communication from becoming really secure, so that anyone can be a suspect just if he/she ever used that method way of communication.
    For that reason we won't soon (or ever) see secure authentication and exchange of decryption keys in e.g. mobile-phones: so that police can tune in and listen whenever they want. Although we already see this "problem" with VoIP which is widely used as replacement for a fixed telephony.
  • A german's view (Score:3, Interesting)

    by babooo404 ( 1019760 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @01:47PM (#19628847)
    FYI, I asked my German friend to comment on the topic and at the bottom of the article are his comments:
    http://www.centernetworks.com/first-flickr-now-goo gles-gmail-has-issues-in-germany [centernetworks.com]
  • Me as a german ... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2007 @06:25PM (#19630479)
    has to say I'm so damn sick of this whole crap. Honestly, it sucks so hard to live here, our idiot son of an asshole Secretary of the Interior ("Innenminister" in german) Wolfgang Schäuble demands other, equally perverted, things on a daily basis. In the moment, the best example is his sick idea of a secret online search on hard discs in private computers of so called "suspicious" citizens. I think it's time to get out of Germany as soon as possible, because I'm afraid this whole surveillance might become (and already is, up to a certain degree) pretty dangerous in the near future. Personally, I always thought of Canada as a nice place to life, especially as they dropped those stupid anti-terror-laws, but I consider my English to be far too bad for migrating. Btw, sorry for my poor English!
  • Re:Phew! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kocsonya ( 141716 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @06:48PM (#19630619)
    > that supported it "to save the children" and to "catch the terrorists"

    Don't forget the most common one: "to make money". The whole push for the Great European Constitution (and the just as strong push for not asking the citizens if the actually want it or not) is all about money. They managed to fill the ??? in the Underpant Gnomes business plan:

    1) Unprecedented corporate freedom
    2) Limited and closely monitored personal freedom
    3) Profit!!!
  • by CptPicard ( 680154 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @08:18PM (#19631103)
    Lived the first 15 years of my life in Sievi, so at least the Finnish-speaking part of Ostrobothnia is very familiar to me... my father's side of the family comes from Northern Karelia, I studied in Helsinki and now am settled in Nurmijärvi. Been to most parts of the country during my lifetime... got some Swedish-speaking friends, the smarter of them are capable of discussing this, although from their annoyingly typical POV that just simply refuses to see the Finnish-speaker's side of the coin. When it doesn't exist on their mental map, it's not worth commenting on. The less friendly encounters have seen someone from the tiny one-party Swedish-speaking towns on the coast bursting "I DESPISE KARELIANS!!" straight at my face. A really smart move considering that I have a lot of Karelians in the family tree who certainly never spoke a word of Swedish.

    I've raised the issue personally enough times with people to see very clearly that accusing critics of "hating the minority" seems to be a general strategy -- after all, emotional manipulation is a good tactic; also, just see how SFP [Swedish-speakers' party] handles the issue in the media. People like Henrik Lax [one of their political heavyweights] are always whining about how he's being oppressed when not everyone else is like him. FST [the Fenno-Swedes' politically loaded channel within our public broadcaster] ran a hit-piece on internet discussions branding them as "incitement against the minority"... sure, there is a lot of garbage (against Finnish-speakers too), but there are people actually seeking to counter the liturgical bullshit as well, and we get our fair share of mindless accusations. We're pretty close to having the whole issue censored in this country, although the reality is quite different from what our policy is supposedly "upholding".

    For an outside observer it would probably be most interesting to take home the point that in our discussion climate on the topic, a Finnish-speaker becomes intolerant of a Fenno-Swede through mere assertion of his existence. Because the law says the country is bilingual -- and as it is strangely being read as "everyone has to be Finnish-Swedish bilingual" -- if you don't fit the picture, you, or at least your offspring, must be molded to fit it. Considering that this is done to preserve a certain language group's "rights" and "special character" or whatever, one needs to wonder if it is not just wee bit hypocritical to suggest that someone just has "issues with minority rights" if they don't play along when their own "self" is being co-opted in the name of tolerance. Who exactly is having issues with whom?

    Speaking of bigotry... love the way how you point out that in Vaasa reasonable intelligence and bilinguality correlate ;) From there, there is just a small step to that staple of Fenno-Swedish fantasy that we hear of often.. that in order to increase Finnish-speakers' intelligence, they must be taught Swedish from an early age. It's a half-racist idea, but there you go. Personally, my experiences of Vaasa and people from there are nowhere near the Fenno-Swedish concept of it being a bilingual utopia, but perhaps I just haven't looked deep enough... or more likely, there is a selection bias due to what kind of people one meets.

    Anyway, I am really proud I haven't bought into the bullshit but think for myself, am a "reasonably intelligent" person, and am getting my third language fluent. None of them are Swedish, none of my international acquaintances have never shunned me because of my mother tongue (cue Henrik Lax about Finnish being an "alien language in Europe"), and I plan on being living proof till the end of my days that this isn't the 1800s anymore :P

Testing can show the presense of bugs, but not their absence. -- Dijkstra