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Ex-Deutsche Telekom manager gets prison sentence in spy case

A former Deutsche Telekom manager has been sentenced to prison for privacy violations, fraud and embezzlement. He was trying to plug an information leak. His bosses were let off the hook for lack of evidence.

A Telekom logo and security cameras

Telephone data was collected on some 40 people

A former Deutsche Telekom security manager has been given a three-and-a-half year prison sentence for his role in using telephone records to scrutinize executives, journalists and trade unionists from 2005 to 2006.

Identified as Klaus T., the 60-year-old admitted to having collected telephone data on 40 people. He was trying to identify a leak in the company's organizational structure after media reports surfaced about substantial layoff plans.

Prosecutor Ulrich Kleuser described his actions as "an extreme attack on the freedom of the press and of information."

Klaus T., who spent most of his life working for Deutsche Telekom, was accused of seven counts of illegal data use under the Federal Privacy Act, along with fraud and embezzlement. He had charged a third-party security company with the task of searching for patterns in the secretly collected telephone data.

Klaus Zumwinkel

Klaus Zumwinkel beat the privacy violation charge, but was convicted of tax evasion

Similar cases against Deutsche Telekom's former CEO, Kai-Uwe Ricke, and supervisory board chief Klaus Zumwinkel were dropped in June for lack of evidence. Though Zumwinkel denied wrongdoing, journalists called his innocence into question at the time.

Individual punishment

Although Klaus T. acted independently and said he "deeply regretted" the "very big mistake, which he certainly wouldn't do again," he also said his superiors "never questioned" his actions.

The sentence "certainly sends a signal, which partially is surprising to me," Oliver Goenner, a Bonn-area lawyer specializing in data protection, told Deutsche Welle.

The sentence is fairly harsh when one takes into account that in Germany violation of the Data Protection Act carries a maximum two-year sentence and violation of the Telecommunications Act carries a maximum of five years, Goenner said.

One likely reason for the harsh sentence was that Klaus T. was also accused of fraud and embezzlement. However, in February three Google executives were held responsible in Italy for violating the privacy of a disabled boy who could be seen on YouTube receiving a beating. The two sentences show that attitudes towards privacy violations are changing, Goenner said.

"The significant signal of this sentence is that data protection is no longer a problem which can be solved financially - that one can be held personally responsible and do jail time for violations," he said.

Author: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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