Opening Adress (2016)

Guest speaker: Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

The former Federal Minister for Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is our guest speaker at the 2016 BigBrotherAwards.

– Translation of the German speech; check the original against delivery –

This is another highlight, a great moment of the year: The gala for the BigBrotherAwards against data leeches.

Nobody really wants this prize, because it uncovers and publicises violations of data protection.

There is nothing data leeches fear more than transparency and the light of day. This applies to government institutions as well as private enterprises.

Digitalcourage has done fantastic work and inspires all citizens. Digitalcourage is the advocate for defending the right to informational self-determination and for protecting privacy, and this defender is competent, enduring, sophisticated and clever.

So what is this all about? It is about defending the basic rights and freedoms against ever-increasing monitoring and surveillance. It is about defending the citizens' rights, even in times of terrorist threats. In the light of an obvious tendency of the security administration to tip the scales ever more in the direction of more powers of intervention, and against the right to data protection and the protection of core areas of private life, this is urgently needed.

Lacking an effective opposition in the federal parliament (“Bundestag”) civil society must stand up for fundamental rights.

They are the foundation of our democracy, of our community, but they have come under increasing pressure: freedom of religion is under pressure from islamophobic and antisemitic attitudes among the population, which have now gained a public mouthpiece. Postal and telecommunications secrecy from blanket data retention of telecommunications metadata. Privacy from the Federal Trojan and surveillance in private homes. The right to informational self-determination from an unbounded governmental and private data collection mania.

In a great alliance with many other organisations, professional societies of journalists and medical practitioners, trade unions, AIDS-support and telephone counselling, Digitalcourage has organised large demonstrations in Berlin and other places. Tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets against surveillance, advocating “Freedom, not Fear”. Fear must never be the reason to extend the powers of intervention for mass surveillance of citizens. There can be no absolute security.

It is high time to put an end to the unfounded assertions that we would have to give up our freedom for security.

The terrorists of Paris, Brussels, Ankara and in Lebanon fight brutally and inhumanely against our freedoms, our way of life, our open society. If we ourselves abolish our civil rights and liberties, they will have won.

The Federal Constitutional Court (“Bundesverfassungsgericht”) has set politicians and legislators straight time and time again. Electronic eavesdropping, data retention, aviation security law, online searches, dragnet surveillance, anti-terror files. Again and again the Constitutional Court has defended the core areas of private life against the rampant security state.

It happened again this week, when the law about the Federal Criminal Police Office (“Bundeskriminalamt”), introduced by the grand coalition of 2009, was deemed unconstitutional. Legislators had once more ignored the standards for the protection of the core areas of private life set by constitutional law. The fight against terrorism does not justify all means; not spying on every computer, not the unchecked passing-on of personal data to foreign intelligence agencies, and not the extensive surveillance of lawyers.

The current decision demands clearly defined legal standards which set out limits for information interchange between secret services and may also become relevant for the review of the new attempt to introduce suspicionless telecommunications data retention.

This data retention without concrete suspicion is a never-ending story. The grand coalition is unwilling to accept that this mass surveillance of the telecommunications behaviour of all German citizens is a grave violation of their fundamental rights.

The rulings of the German Federal Constitutional Court and of the European Court of Justice, rejecting the German data retention law as well as the European data retention directive due to violations of the German constitution and of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, did not stop Germany’s governing coalition of Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) from allowing this form of surveillance of telecommunications behaviour again under the deceptive name of “maximum retention periods”.

All expert testimony illustrating that this kind of mass surveillance cannot prevent terror attacks is ignored. The security agencies already have enough data. But as Belgium has shown, it has not been used appropriately.

This is why liberals, Digitalcourage, members of parliament and other organisations will file a suit against this law with the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. We march separately, but united we will win, that is our motto.

Digitalcourage shows that protest and dedication are worthwhile. And from my own experience as government minister I encourage citizens to defend their rights and to revolt peacefully against political decisions. Petitions to government departments help the cause. Just think of the EU agreement on ACTA. In our digital age, copyright cannot be enforced by warning notices and vague regulations. After mass protests I refused to sign this ACTA agreement in my function as Minister for Justice in the last legislative period, because the concerns were justified. The European Parliament followed suit and ACTA was finally shelved.

The suspicionless retention of airline passenger data is the next step towards monitoring the flying habits of 500 million European citizens. The European Parliament passed this regulation a few days ago. Again ignoring the fact that groundless spying is a profound violation of fundamental rights – rights encoded in the Constitution to protect privacy and personal data.

These rights are not museum pieces from a bygone age, they are more relevant today than they ever were. Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union bind the European legislator in particular.

To fill these rights with life and to defend them, even in this digital age, is Digitalcourage's primary concern. And that is also my motivation.

I am convinced that many citizens do not want to be spied upon, monitored and controlled. This concerns everyone, because all sorts of data are collected, without any suspicion of wrongdoing. All users of information technology, and very soon all airline passengers on their way to their vacation in Spain, Italy or Turkey, are all treated as potential suspects.

We don't want any of that. Only when there is specific suspicion can the police be allowed to gather information about the telecommunication habits of individual suspects.

All these examples illustrate the trend in interior and legal politics of the last decades, especially since the attacks of 9/11: more and more security laws are passed to “defeat” terrorism, overlooking the fact that more powers of intervention and more restrictions of civil liberties will not increase security.

Little by little, bit by bit, freedom is dying. And that will only be noticed once it is completely gone, but by then it will be too late. The BigBrotherAwards are a call to arms against this development.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

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.