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Merkel calls for loosening of 'restrictive' German data protection laws

The German chancellor has warned against strict interpretations of EU-wide data protection laws. The comments suggest a major shift in the German government's approach to data storage.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for a new way of thinking about data protection laws on Thursday during Germany's 10th IT summit in Saarbrücken.

The German terms "Datensparsamkeit" and "Datenvermeidung" refer to data economy or frugality and data avoidance. The basic idea behind both concepts is that a minimum of personal data should be collected and used only as necessary.

The two terms have been guiding principles of Germany's relatively parsimonious stance towards data collection - until now.

"Data economy cannot be the guiding principle for new products today," Merkel said on Thursday.

In the interpretation of the European Union Data Protection Regulation, which took effect in May, Merkel said countries must be careful not to apply the law "restrictively" so that "big data management would not be possible."

Data protection, the chancellor said, is about "the prevention of excesses" but also about "enabling new developments." She warned that extremely limiting views towards the EU data law could lead to the banning of big data applications.

"We Europeans are known for banning things," Merkel said.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere echoed the chancellor's comments, adding that it is important for German data to be stored in Germany. US internet corporations, such as Google and Facebook, have earned billions based on ad revenues and the analysis of their users' data.

"Not saving data in Germany means that data will be used elsewhere," de Maiziere said.

During the summit, Deutsche Telekom's CEO Timotheus Höttges called "big data" a "gift to make society better and faster." 

The comments, especially those from Merkel, suggest a significant shift in the German government's approach to online privacy and data protection. Officials have often spoken out in the past against Google and Facebook for storing German users' personal data. The European Union has also taken Google to court in the past for violating its data protection laws.

The new EU-wide data laws were intended to protect consumers, ease access to regulators and aid businesses. However, some experts believe the regulations are too abstract, allow for too many exceptions and do not cover key internet services such as cloud computing.

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