Tag Archives: privacy standards

Tweet Your Victim/Facebook Your Perpetrator

While the appalling behaviour of Twitter users in the Ched Evans case has caused an uproar in the UK, there is a contrary case taking place in Germany. The recent social media use in the UK saw a rape victim being named on Twitter, whereas the German case involved a woman naming a man who had been harassing her by sending her sexually explicit messages. Ariane Friedrich an olympic high jumper who trained as a police officer, posted the name and location of the man who had been sending her the messages on Facebook. This has caused a huge discussion in Germany, where privacy laws are known to be particularly stringent.

The man allegedly sent her images of his genitals with the sexually explicit/suggestive message stating that he had “just showered and shaved”. Ms Friedrich became enraged and posted his name and location on Facebook, adding that she will be filing a complaint with the police shortly.

Since she posted the message 2200 people have clicked the “like” button under the post along with 400 comments. In a later post Ms Friedrich explained  that she has “carefully read” through both supportive and critical comments. She added that “of course it had been a big step to make such a vulgar e-mail public”, but she said that this is not the first time she has been insulted and sexually harassed. She also stated that she had previously had a stalker. She claimed that she now felt it was time for her to act and to defend herself, even this posting sparked a huge reaction leading to a further 1100 comments. While some argue that her behaviour was completely justifiable, others claim that her self-administered justice amounts to an erosion of the law.

Her liability would depend on whether her claims are genuine or not and whether the named man actually sent those messages. If her assertion is proven to be true, then she will not be liable for defamation or libel. However if this is not the case, the situation could become more complex. In a well known German tabloid, the man (described in the German media as ‘a man with the same name as the alleged author to the messages’) claimed he had been hacked and has closed his Facebook account as a result. However it is probably unlikely that a judge would make the assumption that Ms Friedrich is accusing an innocent person. Therefore seems unlikely that she will be charged in relation to defamation. However she could be liable under civil law as she breached his right to privacy by making his personal details public. If the named man went to court over the issue he could possibly win in a civil claim, if the circumstances surrounding the publication of his details had sufficient gravity.

While the Friedrich case is very different to the Ched Evans/Twitter case, one case infringing the victims privacy while the other concerns the alleged perpetrator.  Germany has much stricter privacy law than the UK, mainstream media are much more restricted than in the UK. Naming a rape victim, when they should have anonymity for life raises serious concerns about protecting victims. The contrast between these two cases highlights different aspects of privacy law and the ethical minefield surrounding social media.

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Scrambling for Safety Conference 2012: Data Gathering – What are the benefits?

Yesterday I attended the Scrambling for Safety conference at the LSE.
 I was really impressed by the wide range of speakers,
 from the leader of human rights group Liberty Shami Chakrabarti to the Conservative MP David Davis. Finally a real discussion featuring voices from a wide range 
of political and ideological affiliations, although noting the 
absence of any Labour politicians. It was a 
bit less exciting when I realised they all seemed to agree…

The members of the panel talked about the importance of privacy and the negative implications of the invasion of privacy. They also agreed, particularly Julian Huppert and David Davis MP, that politicians generally do 
not have a clue and often take advice from civil servants and security officials as fact. They often seem to rely on information without attempting to validate or research it themselves, probably due to the volume of information that relates to many issues. But what I really wanted to know was how much would it cost? Is it even viable or productive? 
Would it in any way benefit the general public in a way that would 
justify such an invasion of privacy? If not, why on earth was this 
happening? If stronger policies on surveillance are indeed necessary
 what are the alternatives?

Some light was shed on these questions in the second panel, who could not identify 
any real benefit of swamping the police with massive amounts of data
 and the chaos which would ensue as a result. Data gathering on such a
 large scale does not seem to make sense at all. If the government’s plans to combat serious crime and terrorism with these measures, this shows a clear lack of foresight. The panel emphasized that gathering data in this way would only catch very basic internet users, as there are so many 
ways to hide the data being picked up, such as using encrypted pages.
 Monitoring basic internet use, when more advanced users (you don’t 
need to be very advanced to use dropbox for example) know a way
 around it, would encourage a culture of “underground internet use”. This would only complicate things for the police/security 
services. It is also a waste of money and resources to invest in a 
policy that is fundamentally ineffective and extremely invasive of basic
 rights and freedoms. The costs are therefore certainly not outweighed by
 the benefits, which seem negligible if there even are any.

Whitfield Diffie, somewhat of a celebrity in the tech world, so I was told, addressed the issue of privacy of search terms such as e.g. divorce lawyers or cancer clinics which may be largely indicative of your private life. By accessing an individual’s search data the government would be enforcing a huge invasion of privacy, but it would also be largely counter productive and irrelevant to the police regarding surveillance matters.

A retired police officer in the 
audience stated that it appears the government are seeking to implement preemptive measures. Such data is often unusable and overwhelming to the police force
 because of the sheer volume. Analysing such data is complex and time 
consuming and thus provides little value in many investigations which
 need to be carried out swiftly. He gave the example of the recent
 shootings in Tolouse – France, where police had access to 500 intercepted email messages 
which provided a lead to the suspect. However the manpower to analyse and identify suspects in pressing operations will not always be
 available in relation to processing data. The police may not have enough people assigned to a particular case to be able to go through all the available data.

The conference was wrapped up by Nick Pickles from Big Brother Watch, who ended the day with a quote from David Cameron criticising Labour’s policies on surveillance. He pointed out that the coalition government must keep their word, something I fully agree with. He then added that he was standing for the Conservatives in the next election, making his short speech seem a little more like a self interested campaign. However the fact that the organisers were from a wide variety of civil society organisations allowed a broad discussion on an issue that affects everyone regardless of their political affiliation.

The main arguments made at the conference, appeared to be that the proposal is not only a gross invasion of fundamental rights and freedoms in both national and European law, but that it is also both costly and ineffective. The plan seems to be based on a misinformed and misguided policy relating to security, which doesn’t seem to provide any benefit to government, the police or national security. While this issue could have huge negative consequences it is still barely understood by either government or the public.

Shami Chakrabarti used the quote “they say the innocent have nothing to hide – but they do have something to protect”. At present there is little legislation relating to privacy law in the UK and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to a private and family life, is often loosely applied. The Scrambling for Safety conference highlighted the fact that even current law on communications remains highly contentious. The proposed casual and constant invasion of privacy is not in the public interest, neither in terms of security nor cost. The proposal is unrealistic and inappropriate, what is really needed in the UK are stronger privacy laws/rights to protect our freedom and to fully integrate and apply Article 8 of the ECHR in national law.

Privacy Law in Germany

Privacy law is taken very seriously in Germany, much more so than in the UK. It is one of the strictest countries regarding privacy in the world. This is very noticeable in terms of the contrast in media coverage between the UK and Germany, however it also applies to the internet. German privacy laws and more notably their enforcement have actually put restrictions on areas of the internet and it’s use. This has caused websites and social media such as Google and Facebook numerous problems, as the freedoms of the internet come into conflict with the growing interference with the private lives of individuals.

Street View in Germany: Germans were given the chance to opt out of Google Streetview

In 2010 Google maps was forced to blur out images at street level, after complaints by residents whose houses were shown. People were given the opportunity to opt out of Street View in order to comply with German privacy standards. 3% of Germans actually did this and these buildings were blurred out, making Street View look rather comical. In some cases single housing blocks were blurred out among a whole row of buildings on well known city streets, while in the countryside many large houses were blurred out obscuring the entire street. Google has since stopped updating Google Street View in Germany. Ironically the blurred out images have attracted attention all around the world, which is probably not exactly what the owners of those houses wanted.

Last year, the Independent Centre for Privacy Protection (ULD) in Schleswig-Holstein (a state on the Northern tip of Germany) made it illegal for organisations based in the state to have Facebook fan pages and to use the ‘Like’ application. The ULD website states that by using the application, traffic and content data are transferred to the United States where feedback is sent to the website owner regarding the web page usage. Therefore, according to the ULD, when you visit Facebook or use one of it’s plug-ins you can expect to be tracked by the company for two years. Last summer, privacy officials in Hamburg also claimed Facebook could be fined for keeping biometric data stored via the facial recognition system hosted on it’s site.

Germany has a rather diligent application of the European Directive on Privacy while the UK’s application is rather loose to say the least. However privacy laws have been in place since the 1970s and the right to privacy has been an important issue in German society for a long time. The history of Germany has a large part to play in this. Under the Nazi regime and in the GDR people were constantly under surveillance and faced persecution. These regimes used methods that severely infringed people’s privacy and made a negative and terrifying impact on their personal lives. Many Germans feel that privacy laws are very important and that these should be regularly updated and adapted to be in tune with modern technology and society. Maybe we could learn from the German approach to privacy in relation to the view that the law should be an ever evolving organism, which is a perception long held by the legal system in England and Wales.

Challenges to privacy infringements by Germany may not be such a bad thing for internet users across the globe, as it brings to light potentially dodgy privacy violations by new applications, terms and conditions or privacy policies by new media and social networking sites. The issue of privacy will only become a wider issue as our personal lives are ever more present  and visible online and while companies seek to use personal information on the internet as a resource for selling their products and conducting research. While the UK may still be more pragmatic and loose in it’s implementation of privacy laws, it will most likely become more stringent as individuals grow increasingly concerned with their right to privacy and their exposure over the internet.