Chapter 3: Germany
Wolfgang Kilian For post-war Germans, sensitivity to the need to protect personal information came easily. Recent historical experience of totalitarian government combined with long-standing intellectual and cultural themes made Germany one of the first countries in the world to adopt privacy protection codes. To this day, concern over treatment of personal information remains acute among Germans. The growing familiarity with information technology among the German population facilitates the understanding of the concept among citizens and consumers. Public awareness of the data protection issue is high. Early evidence of these sensitivities came in the unexpectedly indignant public response to the planned census of 1983. Under a new federal statute (Census Act of 1983), every family was to respond to an extensive questionnaire requiring personal data on matters ranging from living conditions to education to leisure activities. Data so provided were to be used both for government planning and for population registers used by local government administrators. As it turned out, these demands on Germans’ privacy triggered stiff resistance – from left-wing activists, consumer protection groups, civil libertarians and others. Many called for civil disobedience; media coverage was intense. In a nearly unprecedented action, privacy advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Supreme Constitutional Court, demanding suspension of the Census plans. To widespread surprise, they won. The Court declared the Census statute partially unconstitutional (BVerfGE 65, 1 – Census Case). The immediate result was to reduce some 40 million questionnaire forms to a heap of worthless waste paper. The Court based its findings on...
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