A new survey shows that data retention laws influence the actual behavior of citizens in Germany. 11% had already abstained from single telecommunication acts, 52% would not use phone or e-mail for confidential contacts.
The problem with surveillance is not primarily that some bored officer might learn about some embarrassing private detail (although this is a problem as well). The fundamental problem with surveillance is that it changes people. People under surveillance behave differently than people who are not monitored – differently than free people.
Unfortunately, this fundamental problem has just been proven in Germany. Since the beginning of this year, communication providers are required to record who communicated with whom and when (but not the content of the communication). This data is stored for six months and available to law enforcement in cases related to certain forms of crime.
A recent survey (German) by the well-known German Forsa institute now showed the social effects of this data retention law: Communication habits are indeed changing.
1.002 individuals have been questioned on May 27th and 28th. These are the results:
- 73% know about the data retention
- 11% said that they had already abstained from using phone, cell phone or e-mail in certain occasions
- 6% believe to receive less communication since the beginning of the data retention
- 52% said they probably would not use telecommunication for contacts like drug counselors, psychotherapists or marriage counselors because of data retention
And the sad fact: 48% still think that data retention is a necessary step for crime prevention.
"The deterring effects of this law is life threatening, for example if people do not call a drug counselor or psychotherapist" claims Patrick Breyer of Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung, a network of civil rights and privacy activists.
Thomas Dreesen of the association of German specialized journalists is also worried: “Against the background of [the abuse of communication data by Germany’s largest telephone provide] it is obvious how easily such data can be abused to spy out journalists and expose whistle blowers. The law […] therefore threatens the freedom of press in Germany”
The study was commissioned by Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung [a network of civil rights and privacy activists], ,, NULL, eco [German ISP and Internet Association], Deutscher Fachjournalisten-Verband [German association of specialized journalists] and JonDos GmbH [an anonymizer company].
(This article is also available in German)