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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.
    • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @11:59AM (#19628207)
      Unlike what the summary suggests, this is not specific to Germany. It's the implementation of a European directive [] on data retention. And FWIW, the US is indeed less invasive than the EU [] at this point concerning data retention.
      • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:21PM (#19628357)
        It IS specific to Germany in some respects. Remember, the directive only specifies the MINIMUM requirements for the law; The implementations are country-specific.

        Outlawing Tor is very much specific to Germany.
        • 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".

          • 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!!!
        • Re:Phew! (Score:5, Informative)

          by moronoxyd ( 1000371 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:35PM (#19628437)

          Outlawing Tor is very much specific to Germany.

          Tor will not be outlawed, but anybody who runs a Tor server from within Germany has to log the connection data, which pretty much goes against the idea of Tor.
          But running or using Tor in general will not be illegal (from what I unterstand).

          • 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.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by rtb61 ( 674572 )
              Interestingly what the law amounts to, if you were, in old world speak, to send a letter via snail mail with out a return address you would be committing the modern day equivalent of a criminal act, what other twisted extension could you have, putting up post it notes with out to name address and phone number, an anonymous verbal hi how are you with out declaring your full name and detail.

              Just because it is now in the digital world and governments or corporations are capable of invading everyone's privacy

        • by rmstar ( 114746 )

          Outlawing Tor is very much specific to Germany.

          Do you have any other links discussing this? Is this "Germany Outlaws Tor" for real?

      • And FWIW, the US is indeed less invasive than the EU at this point concerning data retention.
        Well, that's a relief.
        Now what about all those other metrics we use to measure privacy?
        How's the US Government doing with those?
      • by kill-1 ( 36256 )
        This is specific to Germany. The European directive was massively supported by the German government. There wouldn't be such a directive if Germany hadn't pushed this forward the whole way. That's how you bypass national legislature in Europe nowadays.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Halo1 ( 136547 )

          There wouldn't be such a directive if Germany hadn't pushed this forward the whole way.

          I doubt it, since this was mainly pushed through by the UK Presidency. And pretty much the only fundamental opposition came from Ireland. But guess what: not because they're against data retention (in fact, a framework decision on this topic was approved under Ireland's presidency of the Council), but because they don't think it's a third pillar [] competence (the data retention directive was a codecision procedure).

    • Bwa ha ha...If you're not gambling online, violating copyright, or arbitrarily arrested, the USA is in fact far freer than Europe.
    • 7499403&hl=en&scoring=n []"Germany faced an elevated threat of terrorism on Friday because of its involvement in Afghanistan, according to officials who say the risk of an attack here ...." so that's the excuse for this push-through tactics.
    • Re:Phew! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @04:39PM (#19629783)
      How is a country that makes it illegal to speak favorably about Nazis a "bastion of freedom"?

      (Not that I have anything favorable to say about the Nazis, mind you.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2007 @11:48AM (#19628145)

    I can walk around San Francisco and find hundreds, if not thousands, of open or misconfigured wireless routers. Anonymous access to anyone with a notebook.

    How does germany plan on enforcing this?
  • by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @11:51AM (#19628161)
    GMail Poland excutives were looking rather nervous after this announcement.
    • Re:In other news (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LighterShadeOfBlack ( 1011407 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:05PM (#19628259) Homepage
      I know that's a joke but in reality there's almost certainly some truth in that. Not just Poland of course, but all of the EU. Germany is one of the most influential members of the EU in terms of forming EU law. If this law gets passed in Germany it's only a matter of time before they try and push it on the rest of the continent.
      • Its based on an EU directive so the whole of EU will get similar laws.

        Thus Google will have to shut down in the whole of EU if they do it in Germany.
      • ...if the German Bundestag passes it's new Internet surveillance law. (Matt)'s only a matter of time... (LighterShadeOfBlack)

        Matt, please pay attention to the proper use of "it's".

        Feeling grammar-nazi-ish today... I wonder if it has anything to do with privacy-threatening laws being passed in Germany?

  • 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? China [] (OK, not exactly the same thing but you get the point). I won't bet on it.
    • by weston ( 16146 ) <westonsd&canncentral,org> on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:03PM (#19628245) Homepage
      One difference is that in the West, you can pull maneuvers like this and sometimes they actually make a difference. China probably wouldn't have cared much at all if Google had gotten petulant, and it certainly wouldn't have mattered to them whether or not their citizens lost access to something valuable. In Germany, who knows?

      And cynical types can always note that China is a much bigger market than Germany.

      • by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:34PM (#19628423) Homepage

        Exactly. Google's company policy seems to be the (rather prudent for a corporation) "follow the law in the countries in which you operate." In the US, they were able to refuse to refuse to do this [] because they have legal recourse, for example. This probably doesn't fly in China.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by crazyjimmy ( 927974 )
          Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I was under the impression that Google has refused to provide any functions other than search in China. They don't host their gmail servers or any of their info that contains user info. They don't want the government using them to track its users, and that's the same here as it is in China.

          Or has something changed that I hadn't heard about?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by s4m7 ( 519684 )
      >br/> Germany pop.: 82,400,996 (July 2007 est.)
      China pop.: 1,321,851,888 (July 2007 est.)

      I'm sure china having sixteen times the population of germany has nothing to do with it.
  • by Portikon ( 765757 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @11:59AM (#19628203)
    I wonder if they are going to start requiring their citizens to wear flare as well.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I wonder if they are going to start requiring their citizens to wear flare as well.
      I believe they tried that once, along with a friendly salute. Apparently it didn't go down too well...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phoenix321 ( 734987 ) *
      It's "flair" BTW.

      And we don't have to wear it - yet, BUT we have to *always* carry our passports or other state ID with us at all time.

      "Papers please" is not that far off, and some religious minority WAS forced to wear yellow pieces of flair once upon a time in German history...

      I think the EU is becoming worse than the USSR in maybe a decade. Thank God "rogue" states like Poland are bombarding and vetoing every decision the EU makes, so even the lowest common man is starting to realize what's happening at t
      • Re:Minimum Flare (Score:4, Informative)

        by mjbkinx ( 800231 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @02:31PM (#19629115)

        we have to *always* carry our passports or other state ID with us at all time

        I think you're misunderstanding "Ausweispflicht". We are required to possess a national ID card or a passport, not to carry it with us (which would be "Mitführpflicht"). There is a Mitführpflicht for drivers licenses, but only while driving.
  • a New wall (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jrwr00 ( 1035020 ) <jrwr00&gmail,com> on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:00PM (#19628211) Homepage
    Great We take down one wall and another comes up, why does the government fear computers so much that they must spy on everyone, can't they have a little trust
  • 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 [] 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.

    • 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 wamatt ( 782485 ) * on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:03PM (#19628243)
    Its taken the luddite politicians 20 years notice the rise and power of the internet. Virtual will mirror real world as power is rested from the techies into corporate and gorvernments. Privacy will never be mainstream. Although it will still exist for those willing to go the extra mile. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  • 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 da

    • by BoberFett ( 127537 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:23PM (#19628373)
      I notice that you're using a pseudonym rather than posting under your full, legal name. What are you hiding?
      • by Wellington Grey ( 942717 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:55PM (#19628535) Homepage Journal

        I notice that you're using a pseudonym rather than posting under your full, legal name. What are you hiding?

        He's a bounty hunter, Mr Fett.

        -Grey []
      • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @01:22PM (#19628675)

        I'm hiding my full real name. :-)

        Actually, and perhaps rather paradoxically, very few of my on-line writings have my real name attached to them. I wrote here a little while ago about how I'd cancelled all my accounts on social networking sites as well.

        I have a very clear reason for doing this: in today's culture, posting under my real name gains me nothing and risks a lot. This is, in fact, where I came in. What we should have are real privacy laws, which prevent the kind of arbitrary collection, sharing and mining of personal information that businesses and governments are increasingly using as technology makes it easy. Until we have these, pseudo-anonymity is a somewhat effective defence, but it's only a band-aid for a greater problem.

        The other problem is that society hasn't yet learned that you shouldn't trust everything you read on-line and no-one is perfect. In a sensible world, a prospective employer finding a picture of you doing something stupid while you were a student a decade ago wouldn't be a problem, because they'd just think "Oh, well, a lot of us did stupid stuff when we were students". In a sensible world, a hint in a personal blog that you enjoyed chemistry would not result in police visiting your home because someone reported you as a terrorist. In a sensible world, mentioning your employer by name in a blog wouldn't get you fired (or at least, told to close down the blog or you'd be fired). And so it goes. But this is not, yet, a sensible world.

        Before we can reach that world, people need to grow up and realise that no-one is perfect. Finding the odd character flaw or past indiscretion is not the best criteria on which to judge another human being. As I've noted before, if I had taken personal offence every time one of my friends did something that hurt another of my friends, then I would long since have run out of friends. And yet, I know that all of my friends are basically decent people, and that it is just an unfortunate reality that sometimes relationships don't work out and people get hurt, so I am very glad to have the friends I do regardless of any isolated incidents that I might have disliked if I'd been on the wrong end of them.

        I am optimistic about this, but I think things have to get worse before they get better. With the current generation growing up with social networking sites who are data mining them like crazy, and who have little concept of personal privacy and why it matters, I think a lot of people are going to get screwed over the next 5–10 years. But after a little while, it will become pretty obvious to everyone that this is stupid. People will stop believing every little thing they read about someone, employers will stop vetting people extensively on their Internet footprint because the method will lack credibility, and when citizens/consumers realise how much they're getting screwed I think they will demand privacy laws that prevent the kinds of abuse that are increasingly happening today.

        So, until we reach that point some way down the line, when society has grown up enough to understand the value of privacy and the need to respect people's public personas in a world where most people have an Internet presence somewhere, I choose to protect myself from the damage by posting under pseudonyms on "casual" forums like this one. But I would rather live in a world with serious privacy laws and a grown-up society, where I could write my genuine thoughts here and put my real name to them, knowing that I wasn't going to risk being sued for saying something that inadvertently gave the wrong impression. In that world, I wouldn't need anonymity, and I would be happy to stand by what I write here, with my real name attached.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by J'raxis ( 248192 )

      If you're not anonymous, you don't have real privacy. If what you're doing online is being monitored and linked to you, then the only thing that stands between you and that loss of privacy is some flimsy company policy, or in some places, legislation -- both of which always have exceptions allowing the information to be handed over to law enforcement for a variety of reasons.

      If the data exists, the government can get hold of it. You only have privacy if the data was never collected in the first place.

      • If the data exists, the government can get hold of it. You only have privacy if the data was never collected in the first place.

        Sorry, but I don't agree with that for two reasons.

        For one thing, nebulous arguments about "government" like this are always weak. "Government" is rarely a single person or institution operating executively (and when it is, that's usually an abuse of the intended system of representation that needs to be fixed for a whole host of other reasons anyway).

        For another thing, I'm

    • by n3k5 ( 606163 )

      There seem to be way, way, way more instances of spammers, phishing expeditions, fraudsters, character assassins [...] 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.

      And where from do these shady characters get large lists of e-mail addresses, social security numbers, credit card numbers, and the like? From databases that retain such data. In order to combat these problems, it would seem pr

      • In order to combat these problems, it would seem prudent to limit such data retention to the strictly necessary minimum.

        I couldn't agree more.

        This is why permitting anonymity is not a sufficient substitute for legislating to protect privacy, with penalties that reflect the real damage that can be done by violations, and then enforcing those laws effectively.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by lostlyre ( 774960 )
      You say there is a fine line. The line may be fine, but the choice is still clear: when in doubt, preserve a right - do not take it away. Surely you don't disagree with innocence until proven guilty or the right to bear arms in order to overthrow an oppressive government. Both can lead to bad situations such as setting a guilty person free for lack of evidence or murder. Anonymity is, up to this point, a natural human treasure-just another freedom we have. Once you let a ounce of it go, it's never coming ba
      • I certainly do agree with your first comment: when in doubt, preserve a right. I have commented here previously that I think the most difficult decisions in law and ethics come when rights we would in general seek to preserve come into conflict.

        The thing is, anonymous speech is not a natural right. The natural way of things is that if you say something, you can be seen and heard when you say it, and you can therefore be held responsible by your peers for what you say. If what you say is fair, there is no

  • by weston ( 16146 ) <westonsd&canncentral,org> on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:08PM (#19628283) Homepage
    Why bother with the law? Seems to me all you need to do is *let* businesses do the tracking (which of course they're going to want to do, because data mining is especially useful for marketeers), and government just needs to occasionally ask nicely for copies?

    Better yet if you've also got a unitary executive to go along with it.

  • by Black-Man ( 198831 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:09PM (#19628287)
    Stand up and fight Germany, but let China and their ilk off the hook. Glad to see consistency w/ these companies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DrEldarion ( 114072 )
      Er, you're comparing apples to hedgehogs here.

      In Germany, they're trying to prevent abuses by the government by refusing to compromise on anonymity as required by a new law.
      In China, they're trying to gain a foothold in the market, which will allow them to help democratize information. Some access to information is better than no access to information, especially when they specifically say that results are being left out due to the government.

      I really don't see what everyone's beef with Google in China is.
  • 6 months ago I used gmail and pandora for all my music and e-mail needs.
    First they took pandora from us and now gmail. Whats next? /.? Linux?
    Should I sell my PC now, or what? Honestly. Just when I thought my country (germany) is getting a little relaxed in a paranoid world. ;-(
  • 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.
  • Could this be an attempt to strike back for this [] or perhaps this []? (EU:Google 2:1)

    Or rather a lame attempt to weaken the impact of things like this []?
  • Info... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Raven737 ( 1084619 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @12:47PM (#19628499)
    Here the original Spiegel Article [](in German, of course).

    Information about the draft law and what people can do to prevent it from being passed can be found at the following site: [] (also in German)
    What's scary is the range of people that are supposed to get access to the collected information,
    it's not just the police but also "Nachrichtendienste" (news agencies!?) and "ausländische Staaten" (other countries, apparently any that ask)

    I'm guessing this is caused by some lobby/bribe action of organizations like the RIAA/MPAA.
    I can't think of one good reason of why this might be good for anyone,
    criminals will just use bot proxies or other means to bypass the tracking/collection and in the end
    it will just be the honest people that get f#cked because with general government incompetence
    the the data will end up in the criminal's hand's and used for who knows what.
  • Make Gmail users where 5 point-down triangles colored blue, red, yellow, blue, green?

  • 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: gles-gmail-has-issues-in-germany []
  • the NSDAP won again the elections in Germany?
  • by vorlich ( 972710 ) on Sunday June 24, 2007 @05:41PM (#19630175) Homepage Journal
    Gründlichkeit or thoroughness is just so much part of the German character. Back in Scotland you could read the important parts of the Blue Book tax guide in the bookshop and easily identify any new legal tax avoidance strategies. You couldn't do that with the German Tax Books there are about 127 of them. My accountant just photocopies pages out and sticks them in the tax return. You have to pay canal tax but there's no canal and you don't get one either. As for thoroughness, Non-German partners are often very surprised when they clean the entire house from top to bottom only to have their partner point out that they forgot the single cup they drank their post cleaning coffee in which is standing on the immaculate sink - dirty. There is no mention of all the good work, because the concept of balancing good things against negative things (one good thing outweighs loads of bad things) is rather specific to English speakers. German anthropology uses the concept of a linear measure of perfection (or distance from it!) and the streets are so clean you could eat your dinner off them. Well, almost but this is the real reason behind this action, more national character than conspiracy.
    I should confess to reading lots of Tabloid newspapers though but I have also read Critique of Pure Reason if that counts for anything curiously neither activity appears to have had any lasting effect, whereas Counterstrike, now that's a whole different kettle of fish...

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears