NEWS

Maintaining control without breaking laws

The situation in Germany regarding data protection is somewhat nebulous despite the fact that it was one of the first countries, back in the 1970s, that passed special legislation on the issue, said Walter Rudolf, the state commissioner for data protection in Rhineland-Palatinate. «Due to different court rulings, individual laws and amendments, the situation is confused,» he told Kathimerini. From 1970 to the end of the 1980s, protection of data was based on the inviolable principle that information is collected and processed for a clear, specific purpose. The turning point for everyone came on September 11, 2001. «We faced a situation that was unlike anything else we had ever confronted before,» he said. «We had to determine whether the risk was vague or specific, in order to determine when the police had the right to intervene.» This approach to risks led to disputes between those who believed in the need for more security and those who were expressing reservations. «In the period that followed, there was mass electronic monitoring of all men up to a certain age,» Rudolf said. «Many thought this procedure was illegal and tried to block it. It is true that this entire ‘security operation’ did not lead to any specific results. On the contrary, data was collected on thousands of individuals that had nothing to do with terrorism. Violating people’s privacy to no effect in the war on terrorism is certainly an unpleasant development.» He also expressed concern over an imminent renewed data collection program in view of the World Cup soccer championship in Germany in the summer of 2006, a procedure similar to that followed by Greek authorities in the run up to and duration of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. «We have to assume there is a potential risk,» he said. «You see, we have the experience of Munich (Olympics of 1972). We have not yet decided what procedures we will follow. Nevertheless, we must make it clear that there can be a close monitoring without violating the law on data protection.» Rudolf said Germans do not seem concerned: «Most are not worried by the fact that the police know where they are at any given moment. The majority are satisfied with the level of security. They would only be concerned if their tax information was released.»