If a proposed German surveillance law goes into effect unchanged in
2008, Google says, it would shut down Gmail for German customers
rather than comply.
In a showdown with the German government, Google, Inc. has
threatened to shut down its popular e-mail service in Germany if a
planned telecommunications law goes into effect unchanged -- a law
Google's chief data-protection advisor has called a "heavy blow against
the private sphere."
The law is Germany's interpretation (more...) of EU data-retention rules.
If passed later this year by German parliament -- by no means a sure
bet -- it would require all telecommunications companies to collect and
keep private information on their German customers starting in 2008.
To help with criminal surveillance the government wants the connection
data of any German citizen -- including Internet details, phone call
information, and text messages -- saved for 6 months. Anonymous data
would be unacceptable. The vote in the Bundestag, Germany's
parliament, has not yet been scheduled.
Google, though, offers anonymous e-mail accounts. It takes first and last
names for its Gmail service, but those can be faked; and it doesn't
require a valid snail-mail address. "Many users around the globe make
use of this anonymity to defend themselves from spam, or government
repression of free speech," said Peter Fleischer, Google's Global Privacy
Counsel, to the German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche. "If the
Web community won't trust us with handling their data with great care,
we'll go down in no time." As an emergency measure, he said -- rather
than change the product -- "we would shut off Google Mail in Germany."
Google itself has not been a consistent champion of private data,
however. In mid-June a British human-rights group called Privacy
International published security rankings of major Internet companies
including Amazon, Apple, BBC, Ebay, Microsoft, Myspace, Skype,
Wikipedia, and Yahoo. Google turned up at the bottom.
Privacy International praised Google for not handing over "piles of data
to the US government," but had filed a complaint with privacy regulators
in 2004 over Google's policy of scanning customers' E-mail to sell
In May, Google offered to comply with European Union privacy rules by
cutting the length of time it keeps personal data on its users' searches by
25 percent. Google said it would anonymize that information after 18
months, instead of 24.
New news and release discussion.
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