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Open Access

DW staff (win)
August 20, 2008

As a massive scandal regarding the trade with private data widens in Germany, an expert has said info on everyone living in Germany can be bought on the data market. Calls for tighter laws are growing as a result.

A person studies an open book with a magnifying glass
Most Germans are an open book for marketeersImage: dpa

Addresses of "the entire German population" are out in the open to be used for marketing and selling products, the data protection commissioner of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, Thilo Weichert, told German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung in its Wednesday, Aug. 20, edition.

He added that "about 10 to 20 million bank account details" are also illegally out in the open and are mainly used by call centers for dubious business practices, including telephone sales of lotto subscriptions and sweepstake contests.

Weichert's revelations are the latest in a widening scandal that began last week, when Schleswig-Holstein's consumer protection agency was sent a CD-ROM containing the personal details of 17,000 people. The information included name, birth date, telephone numbers, addresses and bank account information.

Urgent issue

German politicians have meanwhile begun to mull changes to the current laws to protect private data.

Brigitte Zypries
Zypries wants to probe the situationImage: AP

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said a reform of current data protection laws should be "seriously probed." The Social Democrat agrees with her conservative colleagues in the ruling grand coalition that passing on personal data should only be allowed with the explicit approval of the people in question.

Sebastian Edathy, who heads the parliament's internal affairs committee, also said lawmakers had to act swiftly.

"The data scandals unfortunately highlight how urgent this issue is," the Social Democrat told Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily, adding that he would call a meeting to discuss this after the summer break.

"Parliament must ... find a quick response to these blatant cases of abuse," Edathy said.

Reversing the trend

Renate Kuenast
Kuenast wants constitutional protection against data abuseImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Opposition leaders also urged to expand privacy protection laws in Germany at a time when then government has been trying to loosen them in order to improve the fight against terrorism and crime.

Data protection rights "belong in the constitution," Greens parliamentary leader Renate Kuenast, a former German consumer protection minister, told reporters.

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