Big-Brother-Awards 2014

The Verein Digitalcourage has announced its 2014 Big Brother awards for the best violations of consumer data protection in the past year. The association posted English translations of each award announcement online, which is awesome.

Politics category
“The German BigBrotherAward in the Politics Category goes to the Federal Chancellery (Bundeskanzleramt) for their involvement in the NSA surveillance scandal and for their lack of defensive and protective action. One of the Chancellery’s roles is top-level supervision over the foreign agency, Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) and over the three federal secret services’ cooperations between each other and with other agencies in Germany and abroad. German secret services work closely with the US intelligence agency NSA, whose actions have violated international and human rights law, and with other secret services. The Federal Intelligence Service and their interior counterpart, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz), have participated with NSA surveillance measures, spying programmes and infrastructures. German governments, past and present, have failed to defend against crimes and violations of civil rights linked to mass eavesdropping and digital espionage. They have recklessly neglected to protect German citizens and companies subjected to industrial espionage from further hostile attacks.”

Transportation
“The Big Brother Award 2014 in the category Economy goes to MeinFernbus GmbH (approx.: My Long-Distance Bus, Ltd.) for obliging passengers to always show an official ID along with the travel ticket they booked online. This makes anonymous bus journeys impossible. MeinFernbus GmbH does not give any legal or other reasons why producing an ID should be necessary. There is the option to try buying a ticket in cash when boarding, but this entails the risk that the bus is fully booked and one cannot travel. Additionally, buying tickets on board is more expensive than booking them in advance via the Internet.”

Technology
“The BigBrotherAward in the ‘Technology’ category goes to the ‘Spies in our Cars’, which look over our shoulders wherever we drive, collecting data, and sometimes even uploading it to the ‘cloud’. It is difficult to name a culprit: car manufacturers cite legal requirements on the one hand, and on the other hand they point to third-party providers that offer services such as localisation and navigation to the driver. This BigBrotherAward also looks to the future: the planned European distress call system ‘e-Call’ will have to prove in practice that it really has been implemented in a way that respects privacy.”

Business
“The BigBrotherAward 2014 in the ‘Business’ Category goes to CSC Corp. (Computer Sciences Corporation). The company is currently working on commissions by 10 Federal German Ministries on security-related projects, such as the electronic identity card, the De-Mail project for exchanging legal electronic documents, and the nation-wide firearms registry. At the same time, the parent company functions as the external IT department of US secret services, and it has organised rendition flights to torture prisons for the CIA.”

Consumer protection
“The South Korean electronics manufacturer LG receives the Big Brother Award in the Consumer Protection category because the ‘smart’ TV sets they sell transmitted detailed information about what people were watching to the firm’s HQ in South Korea, via the Internet. With the help of such information, so-called metadata, one can find out the most intimate details about individual people. The LG devices thus invaded the private lives of unsuspecting people.”

The world of work
And the winner is: the utility RWE, for using surveillance software to measure the performance of its subcontractors’ call center employees. “This software can, without the employees’ knowledge, do complete, continuous recording of phone calls and onscreen actions.” [Spiegel.de]

Neowordisms prize: “Metadata”

Blame category honorable mentions
Honorable mentions in the blame category go to: Debeka; Contipark; the Wiesbaden spa’s parking garage operator/s [?]; church tax [on? to? into?] flat-rate withholding tax [?]; WhatsApp; Talents4Good; and recordings of phone conversations and the public perception thereof.

Julia and Winston Award (the Positive Prize)
“For the first time, we introduce a positive award this year. The ‘Julia and Winston Award’ was named after the ‘rebellious’ main characters in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’, from which the ‘Big Brother’ is also taken. The award is to honour persons who have taken an extraordinary stand against surveillance and data collection mania. The award comes with an endowment of one million – not one million Euro, though.

“The award speech for the first Julia and Winston award is held by Heribert Prantl, senior editor and head of the interior politics section of Süddeutsche Zeitung.”

Heribert Prantl’s speech:

“The winner of the first Julia and Winston Award is Edward Snowden.

“In Berlin, the German parliament (Bundestag) has established a committee of inquiry to investigate the NSA scandal. It is strange that the majority of the committee do not want to invite the person who uncovered this scandal. The committe’s CDU/CSU¹ members talk about Snowden as if he had an infectious disease. And there is hardly any objection from SPD members. That is gross ingratitude.

“The man has already said all he has to say, the argument goes; so there is no need to question him again. That is premature consideration of evidence, which is forbidden in all areas of law and in the German parliament as well. Snowden offers critical evidence, as everyone knows. The real reason why nobody wants to invite him is this: Chancellor Angela Merkel fears a peeved and harsh reaction from her hosts during her US visit in May. That is more than just fainthearted. The Chancellor has sworn in her oath of office to protect the German people from harm. Protecting from harm – that entails taking action against the harm inflicted by the NSA. Instead, the German government acts as if that Snowden, not the US, was the injuring party.

“Edward Snowden is an enlightener. He uncovered the global US inquisition and had to take refuge from the Grand Inquisitor. Personally, he has gained no benefits from his whistleblowing, only disadvantages. The only benefit is for the integrity of the rule of law in Western democracies – well, it could be a benefit if those democracies used the scandal as an incentive to reign in their secret services.

“So Snowden is not just an enlightener, he is also a motivator. He deserves better than a shaky and temporary asylum in Russia. The Americans are pursuing him as if he was the reincarnated Bin Laden. But he is just a single refugee, a textbook case of a refugee. So how should, how must Germany act towards Edward Snowden? Most of all, with gratitude! Snowden deserves protection and support. He is a classic case of a refugee.

“We should, indeed we must give Edward Snowden a stable permit of residence in Germany. We should and must offer him safe passage. All this is legally possible. Instead, the politicians of our ‘grand coalition’ act as if the United States’ power were a legislative force. Germany needs enlightenment about the comprehensive US eavesdropping. Enlightenment is the way out of self-inflicted immaturity.

“Snowden’s actions may be punishable in the US, due to violations of US law; but what is truly criminal are the circumstances and the machinations that he is denouncing. Snowden has acted against US secrecy regulations. Does that make him a traitor? No. The people who call him a traitor have betrayed basic rights themselves. Snowden has given emergency aid to the democratic state under the rule of law.

“His actions deserve recognition from the judiciary and the state, in Germany as well as the United States. He has kickstarted a debate that will hopefully lead to the democratic state protecting itself from the threat constituted by the NSA attacks. He may not really need a German medal; that would not sustain him. But he needs protection and support.

“‘Unhappy the land that has no heroes!’ says Galileo’s scholar Andrea Sarti in Bertolt Brecht’s play. So America can consider itself lucky to have someone like Snowden. But Galilei’s response to Sarti is this: ‘No. Unhappy the land that needs a hero’. That is true as well.

“Snowden is a symbol for courageous resistance by an individual against a powerful state system. He is a tiny David that stood up against a super Goliath. Snowden has resisted, and he continues to do so until today.

“Resistance is a word that people associate with rebellion against a dictatorial regime. But resistance is also a necessity in a democracy, even under the rule of law. Resistance only has a different name in a democracy: it is called dissent, civil courage, standing upright – or simply, Edward Snowden.

“If dissent is penalised: dissidents hazard the consequences. They do so to instigate change, to eliminate deficits and injustice. Arthur Kaufmann, the late Philosopher of Law, once called resistance in a democracy ‘the small resistance’. This small resistance had to be offered ‘to make the large resistance unnecessary’. But sometimes this so-called small resistance is in fact a very large one. That is the case with Edward Snowden. His resistance fully involves the physical and psychological existence.

“Thank you, Edward Snowden.”

“¹ The CDU and CSU (Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union) are Germany’s major conservative parties. They are ‘sister’ parties, with the CSU operating in the Federal State of Bavaria and the CDU in the other 15 Federal States.”

(Beak   BRUZZ ah   ah vorts   tsvoat ow! zanned FIAT seine.)

Brennelementesteuer

A tax on the radioactive fuel elements used in nuclear reactors. Germany’s federal government created this tax in 2011 (the relevant law is called the, ahem, Kernbrennstoffsteuergesetz). Apparently the fuel rods tax has had a deterrent effect on the operation of nuclear power plants, while bringing in billions in revenue. Some utilities have challenged the tax in court.

Two lawsuits are pending before the Munich Financial Court. A court in Baden-Württemberg found that the fuel rods tax was okay. Relevant cases are also going to be heard by the German Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice.

The Hamburg Financial Court referred the question of whether the fuel rods tax is “even permissible” to the European Court of Justice in November 2013. That court could take more than a year to issue a decision.

After the Hamburg Financial Court had referred the larger question to the higher instance, it then decided this week, in response to accelerated petitions from the utilities, that the utilities could be temporarily freed from paying the fuel rod tax and that the German treasury should temporarily return 2.2 billion euros of paid tax to the utilities pending the higher courts’ decisions. The court said the government could appeal though, and if the government appeals within one month they would be temporarily freed from having to make the return payment.

(Bren ell em EN tah shtoy ah.)

(CAIRN bren shtoff SHTOY ah gez ETTS.)

Verbrennungsmotor

Combustion engine.

Auto experts at the recent Geneva Auto Salon said German car manufacturers will be making cars with combustion engines for the next fifteen years or so. They went on to list every conceivable reason for why there aren’t more electric cars in Germany except the one that was the subject of a credible critical anecdotal article recently about trying to test-drive BMW’s new electric car and being unable to find places to recharge it around Hamburg, a city so large it’s also a state.

The author and his family used phone apps to find car recharging sites provided by several major German utility companies only to discover the rechargers weren’t there, weren’t connected up yet, didn’t recharge on weekends, only accepted payment from cards it took fifteen days to acquire, didn’t recognize the code on a payment card the utility expressed to the author, were on a 20-cm concrete pedestal which meant you could only drive close enough to use them on days the business next door was open.

(Fair BRENN oongz moe TOR.)

Intransparente Preisgestaltung

“Intransparent pricing.”

The German supreme court in Karlsruhe [Bundesgerichtshof, BGH] found for the plaintiff in a case brought by the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer protection agency on behalf of natural gas customers against “intransparent price increase clauses in special contracts” of the utilities company R.W.E. Apparently “special contracts” [Sonderverträge, Sonderkundenverträge] in this case are contracts for customers who switched to their current utility from a prior utility. The court found insufficient reasons were cited for price increases on these customers’ utility bills. A ratepayer interviewed on tagesschau.de said when he asked about it R.W.E. fobbed him off by telling him their rates were raised for “responsible, suitable and well-grounded reasons” (“wir haben verantwortungsbewusst, angemessen und begründet kalkuliert”), still without citing them.

The BGH decision was based on a European Court of Justice ruling that the criteria for rate increases have to be notified to these customers when they sign their contract. It is not enough to merely notify European utility customers in advance of rate increases and give them a right to cancel their contract.

Clauses in “special gas contracts” must contain information about causes for, prerequisites for and scope of possible price increases, in a clear and understandable manner, the BGH judges said.

The German court’s decision applies retroactively for the past three years. Millions of German billpayers are now being encouraged to check their natural gas contracts’ price increase clauses for legality and apply for their money back if they don’t meet requirements. A press release about the decision from the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer protection agency said >70% of Germany’s 13.5 million gas customers are on these special contracts because they’ve switched utilities—encouraging market forces to rationalize prices for consumers!—and recommended the energy utilities provide “slender and consumer-friendly procedures” for the affected customers to ask for and receive their money back.

(Inn tronz par ENT eh   PRIZE geh SHTOLT oong.)

Europaweit

“Europe-wide.” A controversial Arte documentary has drawn attention to the new EU water guideline the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier (of Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party) is about to issue in which local European government water projects will accept bids from all of Europe. Water activist Jean-Luc Touly warned the current plans for the guideline will make it difficult for public utilities to compete against profit-driven private utilities that are, he said, not primarily motivated by consumers’ best interests. 80% of the French water market has been privatized, the 2010 Arte documentary “Water Makes Money” claims to show instances of corruption in that French privatization and there was an increase in French water quality problems post-privatization, Touly said.

Around the world, many privatization contracts appear to have gone to subsidiaries of just a few big companies such as Bechtel (USA), Enron (USA, now spectacularly bankrupt), RWE (Germany) and Suez/Veolia (France). Opening privatization of city water utilities to Europe-wide bidding might encourage reductions in international competition among these providers.

(Oy ROPE a v eye t.)

 

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