Germans Likely to Resist Corporate Push for Relaxation of Privacy Principles

    Jun 27, 2017

    Earlier this month, Der Spiegel reported that Angela Merkel’s CDU party wants to make Germany more open to big-data business by loosening its data protection regime. The news outlet cited a CDU strategy paper that criticizes the principle of data minimization, which refers to collecting only the data you really need through sensors and online platforms, rather than scooping up as much as you can.

    According to the CDU document, data minimization is not an optimal general guideline because it “reduces opportunities for new products and services and potential progress."

    Acknowledging Germany’s taste for privacy rights, Der Spiegel foresees serious resistance to such a change, which could come with new legislation after the September election. According to the article, Germany's strong data protection laws are partly a function of its history because it experienced excessive surveillance by the Nazi and East German regimes in the last century.

    Much of the country’s industrial strength lies in the automotive sector, where big data is becoming a core part of how companies do business, and much of German industry has been requesting the privacy laws be relaxed.

    "We have to see data as something you can work with, and if you try to minimize data, you don't have data to work with," said Andreas Streim, a spokesman for Germany's Bitkom digital industry association. "We have to find a balance between security and privacy and the possibility for new business models."

    Rights activist Joe McNamee, the executive director of the Brussels-based European Digital Rights (EDRi), said a shift towards recording and exploiting more data would reduce trust in European digital services.

    "The CDU is, apparently with a straight face, trying to duplicate the US data chaos to support EU industry, removing European companies' and the European legislative framework's biggest competitive asset," McNamee said.

    He referred to a 2016 report from the U.S. Commerce Departments, which said that fears over online security and privacy were "prompting some Americans to limit their online activity."

    "The [CDU's] political spin is horrifyingly ill-informed, ill-conceived and naïve," McNamee said.

    Der Spiegel says it is difficult to see how any prospective changes will square up with the incoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The legislation, effective next May, includes data minimization as a core principle, stating "Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed."

    According to Jan-Philipp Albrecht, a German Green member of the European Parliament who championed the GDPR, "The problem here is that [the CDU] doesn't really see that data minimization is only an issue if you talk about personal data. Much of [the discussion around] data analytics and science is not necessarily about personal data, but about industrial data. In this area, of course when it comes to non-personal data, nobody wants data minimization. Everyone wants as much data as possible. If they call for authorities to release data to the benefit of innovators et cetera, then of course we're all on board."

    But where data about identifiable individuals is concerned, Albrecht warned, data minimization is essential to give people control over the information they share.


    © 2017, ARMA International