An awards ceremony in Germany seeks to raise awareness about data protection by recognizing those who violate it. This year, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich as well as Saxony's interior minister both won awards.
Just like in television and film awards ceremonies, presenters announced the winners of the Big Brother Awards during Friday's ceremony in the west German city of Bielefeld, recognizing the people and companies that have done the most in 2012 to harm the privacy of individuals by collecting and passing on their personal information.
There was nothing glamorous about the recipients of the awards - they were mostly bureaucrats and technocrats. But the laid-back presentation style juxtaposed with the technical details, which justified why a particular recipient won, demonstrated that surveillance has made horrifying progress in the globalized digital world.
Surveillance 'Made in Germany'
Presenter Frank Rosengart of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), a group of hackers who view themselves as mediators between social and technical development, recognized the company Gamma Group for their software FinFisher in the category Technology. The Gamma Group developed the program to help authorities penetrate computer systems in order to install surveillance software, the company's specialty.
In a convoluted online advertising text, the company states that "the product...enables access to target systems (computer and telephone), whereby it can analyze and collect encrypted data and communications via remote control."
This kind of software is banned under paragraph 202c - "Preparation of Spying and Intercepting Data "- of the German criminal code. The ban, however, only applies to businesses that deal with private individuals and companies. The software can be freely sold to state institutions in Germany and abroad.
Gamma Group International is one of the main sponsors of ISS in Dubai, a trade convention for security technology. The company also offers FinFisher to authorities and countries that don't have the best reputation for respecting human rights.
Good service for dictators
It's no wonder then, that during the storming of the Egyptian state security headquarters, documents were found that proved that the secret police had used a Trojan made by Gamma Group to hunt down opposition activists, said Rosengart in his speech at the ceremony.
Without modern communications equipment, the rebellion in the Arab world would have been stillborn. But the Big Brother Awards show that oppression today is not only achieved through physical and psychological violence, but that it can also be carried out via digital remote control.
Brave new world
In order to take a stand against this "brave new world," around 300 guests came to the awards ceremony. Organizers hoped to bring attention to the sometimes careless, sometimes irresponsible interaction with personal data.
During the ceremony, none of the recipients were there to accept their prize from the jury. But one jury member, an artist and Internet activist known as padeluun - he only uses his pseudonym in public - said in the past companies such as Microsoft and Deutsche Telekom have accepted their dubious awards.
"Sometimes they have a backbone, but it's seldom," he said.
The prize has been awarded by the organization FoeBuD since the year 2000. FoeBuD, which stands for "association for the promotion of public mobile and immobile data exchange," has been campaigning for data protection since 1987.
According to one of the organization's brochures, "the main idea is the preservation of a livable world in the digital age." It's about self-determination when it comes to information. Because if a person cannot be sure if he or she is under surveillance, then they are fundamentally restricted in their freedom.
German data protection movement as role model
Along with FoeBuD and CCC, representatives of other organizations that campaign for data protection and human rights make up the seven-seat jury. The prize is awarded in seven categories: Authorities and Administration, Communications, Politics, Consumer Protection, Technology, Working World and Economy.
Saxony's interior minister, Markus Ulbig, and Germany's federal interior minister, Hans Peter Friedrich, also won awards as well as cloud computing, Blizzard Entertainment, Bofrost and Brita GmbH.
"We have given people the courage to talk about the topic of data protection," said padeluun, who sees the awards as having a very positive impact. "The strong data protection movement in Germany is a role model for Europe and the entire world."
Author: Rodion Ebbighausen / slk
Editor: Martin Kuebler