Nr. 1/7 1996

State control over communication in Germany?

On friday, the 5th of July the german Bundesrat voted for a telecommunicationsbill designed by CDU/CSU (christian democrats), FDP (liberals) and SPD (social democrats). Critics maintain that the bill, which should regulate the privatisation of the telephone-network until the end of 1997, contains passages that allows for an uncontrollable surveillance of users by state officials.

The reason for the critique is paragraph 87 of the bill which binds telecommunicationsservices to grant criminal prosecution offices and secret services with automated, unrestricted and immediate access to old and current personal data of their clients at any time without the knowledge of the providers. For this purpose, a "regulation office" is to be installed within the department of economics which is to determine the desired data on behalf of secuity offices. The providers are to pay the costs of the necessary technical changes that need to be made themselves. Apart from the telecom, mobile telephone companies, Internet providers and mailbox operators are also affected. Since the regulations not only effect "commercial operators" but also "businesslike operators" with and without "profit purposes", operators of hobby-mailboxes or internal company data- and telephonenetworks cold also be made responsible.

While supporters of the law argue that extended inverstigative powers would be needed in the age of digital communication, critics say that it could not prevent the criminal use of services. While supporters declare that it would only be used to attain general data, critics fear that the law would allow the surveillance of users; security offices could, for example, make exact personality profiles of users since many providers store not only general data about their clients, but also specific data on what services they used. Furthermore, the law contains no regulations or punishments to sanction abuse.

Mojo :-(So far, there has been little public notice of this conflict, since most newspapers and other media only reported on the main function of the telecommunications bill. But on the Internet opposition is growing: Following the example of the US-American Blue Ribbon Campaign which opposed net-censorship by the Communications Decency Act and found thousands of supporters world-wide, Nicolas Reichelt from the Institue of New Media in Frankfurt has designed a graphical bug in protest of the "bugging law", which can be seen on a growing number of web-sites that disapprove of the new law. On his (german-language) web-site a copy of the graphic ready for download and numerous links to sites dealing with this and related subjects can be found:


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