Newspeak Award: Securing Digital Evidence

Laudator: Kai Biermann

The undead inhabit the worlds of fantastic books and movies, where they are supposed to give a delightful scare. But such undead are a reality, and there is absolutely nothing delightful about them, because their realm of existence is politics. Supposedly buried long ago, they keep pestering people in the form of continually recurring dangerous ideas. Unfortunately, neither are they supposed to entertain, but rather to confuse the voters, lest they realise they are being taken for a ride.

Telecommunications data retention is such a zombie. It died so many political deaths: The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) banned it, as did courts in various other countries, and even the European Court of Justice. But always it returns.

Many people oppose it, they do not want all their digital activities to be stored without cause. Still politicians reiterate the demand, and their creativity is limited to finding new names for the same old idea.

The term “data retention” – particularly its German version “Vorratsdatenspeicherung”, which implies creating a reserve stockpile – may sound as if someone cares, but that was just the beginning. This curtailing of basic rights was then called “minimum storage term”, “minimum data storage” or “minimum storage duration” (“Mindestspeicherfrist”, “Mindestdatenspeicherung”, “Mindestspeicherdauer”). The latter term already received a Newspeak award in 2011. Just now the Minister of Justice has revived these surveillance plans under the new moniker “storage obligation and maximum storage period for metadata” (“Speicherpflicht und Höchstspeicherfrist für Verkehrsdaten”). He thus transformed the “minimum storage” into “maximum storage”, and implied that it is everyone’s duty to collect such data. This is an amazing rhetoric stunt designed to confuse people. The only organisation to top this is the CSU (Christian Social Union, the Bavarian “branch” of the Christian Democrats, CDU). They called the concept “private storage provision” (“private Vorsorgespeicherung”), believing they could sell their total surveillance to the voters that way. But the pinnacle was the attempt to market these plans as “securing digital evidence” (“digitale Spurensicherung”).

It sounds completely harmless, because nothing reminds us of the fact that data is being hoarded for months, and because securing evidence is something nobody would want to do without when trying to solve a crime.

But it is just another attempt to deceive voters, to push something onto them that they reject. Because “securing digital evidence” is a lie.

It is not about the evidence criminals left behind during a specific crime. It is not about securing fingerprints after a crime has been committed.

It is about storing the communications fingerprints of all German citizens without cause, hoping to be able to identify a few felons more easily. So it is still about a general suspicion, about doing away with the presumption of innocence, and about violating several basic rights.

There is no reason to distrust everyone, let alone a duty to put an entire society under suspicion.

It would be a much better choice to leave what has been banned where numerous judges have buried it: on the graveyard of ideas of the enemies of the constitution and surveillance fanatics. Just to remind everyone that zombies are the stuff of fantasy and have no room in politics, “securing digital evidence” receives the Newspeak Award.

[Image above: HaPe_Gera, SpuSi, cc-by-2.0]

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