Notes of Disapproval

Not all nominees for the Big Brother Award have made it. Several times, the jury had great difficulty not to sanction a violation of data protection with one of our unwanted prizes. But data leeches who think they might run off unharmed only because we hand out too few main prizes are harbouring a false sense of security. Because there still are our notes of disapproval.

Not all nominees for the Big Brother Award have made it. Several times, the jury had great difficulty not to sanction a violation of data protection with one of our unwanted prizes. But data leeches who think they might run off unharmed only because we hand out too few main prizes are harbouring a false sense of security. Because there still are our notes of disapproval.

Again this year, many nominations were concerned with unnecessary data collection. Of these we present only three that demonstrate thoughtless use of personal data:
The students of a business school of higher education in Bielefeld (Fachhochschule des Mittelstands) are demanding that visitors to one of their events supply a complete professional profile: name, address, position, company, fax, phone, e mail — all required entries for the internet-based application form, with the reasoning that “we need to print proper name tags, don't we?”

In May 2006, the first league football club Energie Cottbus took all data from the ID cards of ticket buyers, who could buy a maximum of four tickets per person. But they didn’t even plan to link tickets to individual people — which makes the purpose of this data collection simply incomprehensible.

Downright impudent is the behaviour of the German association of yachtsmen (Deutscher Segler-Verband): Those who do not want their participation in a regatta published on the internet have to pay 10 Euros as a “service charge”. Informational self-determination is degenerated into a tradeable commodity.

The Interior Minister of the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Mr Heribert Rech, is also due for a reprimand. He had his ministry develop a questionnaire to be used in the naturalisation procedure, the so-called Muslim test, and some of the questions that presumed Muslims are given must be considered part of the inviolable core of private life choices. People wanting to be naturalised are questioned about family affairs or personal reactions to other people’s sexual orientation. This is not only discriminating but also a data protection problem. Answers to such questions are simply none of the state’s business — just like attitudes and lifestyles of its citizens are of no concern to it either, as long as no criminal acts are involved. So to assess adherence to the constitution, of all things, Mr Rech has installed a questionnaire and a procedure that contradict the very spirit of the constitution.

There are more violations to reprimand of the legitimate right to be left to one’s private life. The tabloid Bild-Zeitung for one with its “reader come reporter” campaign sounded the attack on the privacy of the famous, and the not so famous. Snapshots of socialites, spectacular accidents or people caught unaware in the nude are now distributed all over the country and remunerated with 500 Euros for the hobby paparazzi. The respect for privacy and thus human dignity of fellow citizens is severely put into question through this kind of gutter journalism. The jury strongly disapproves of this kind of instigation to voyeurism and together with society-critic Karl Kraus hopes “that a growing number will be gripped with horror that such things have a place in a cultured society.”

There is much talk of voluntariness in connection with mass DNA-surveys. They enjoy increasing popularity as a means of criminal prosecution. The last great DNA-manhunt took place in the town of Coswig, near Dresden, in July 2006. After two sexual assaults, at first 3,000 men were asked — on court order — to volunteer mouth swipes, but no match was found. Then about 100,000 men living in the Dresden area were to be asked to take part in saliva tests. The BBA jury says: a refusal to participate in such tests cannot justify suspicion. Therefore it is more than alarming that the refusers have to reckon with being criminally investigated, having their alibis checked or even investigators turning up at their workplace.

We further want to draw attention to the second largest prying campaign since the Football World Cup: not only professional but also hobby air pilots and everybody who has “more than sporadic” access to airport areas must have themselves explored since January 2005. With the revision of the law on air security, the Luftsicherheitsgesetz, (which originally also contained the possibility of firing at a hijacked passenger plane), a reliability test was introduced at the beginning of last year. To pass this is a prerequisite for earning or keeping a flying licence. The examination involves numerous inquiries with the police and intelligence agencies. Applicants do not only have to arrange for these annual inquiries themselves, they must also pay for them out of their own pockets. It is not known whether there is a definitive catalogue of rules, listing which facts would put someone’s reliability in doubt. Since the introduction of this test, pilots have to fear that e.g. certain foreign contacts might lead to a revocation of their licence.

And last but not least: As we know from their verdict on the so-called Major Eavesdropping Attack1 from March 3, 2005, the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, Germany’s highest court), attaches great value to giving special protection to a core area of private life, such as phone conversations to one's spouse. On the same day, the judges also declared unconstitutional the authorisation for telecommunications tapping by the customs authority and called on the parliament to protect privacy in these areas as well. They set the Federal Parliament (Bundestag) a deadline of December 31, 2004. The parliamentarians adhered and removed the unconstitutional parts from the German foreign trade law, but, with minor changes, reintroduced them in the customs investigation service law. And the regulations stipulated by the Constitutional Court for the protection of core areas of privacy were still missing. So there was still legislation in force that was incompatible with the Constitutional Court’s requirements. At least the new law was again time-limited and due to expire on 31 December 2005 — but then the Bundestag extended this obviously unconstitutional law for another year. We take note: The German Federal Parliament refuses obedience to the Constitutional Court. A clear reason for a reprimand from the BBA jury!

You see: Even below the threshold of prize-worthiness in the Big Brother Awards, data leeches of official and private varieties are up to mischief. There continues to be a great demand for everyone to be alert and refuse to accept a surveillance society. We hope that this will continue to find a response in numerous nominations of data leeches.


1 Großer Lauschangriff, the German name for audio surveillance being used on private homes in the course of state investigations

About BigBrotherAwards

In a compelling, entertaining and accessible format, we present these negative awards to companies, organisations, and politicians. The BigBrotherAwards highlight privacy and data protection offenders in business and politics, or as the French paper Le Monde once put it, they are the “Oscars for data leeches”.

Organised by (among others):

BigBrother Awards International (Logo)

BigBrotherAwards International

The BigBrotherAwards are an international project: Questionable practices have been decorated with these awards in 19 countries so far.