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Protest group Akkurater Widerstand, Berlin
Image: Sebastian Sooth

Normal people data protest

Michael Scaturro, Berlin
September 22, 2014

Normale Leute: A Berlin-based group wants to fight data protection protest prejudices - and government spying - by demonstrating in suits. "Akkurater Widerstand" reject anonymous masks to appear "normal."


It's a late Saturday afternoon in the German capital, Berlin, where the iconic Brandenburg Gate is abuzz.

On its eastern side, hundreds of spectators have turned out to watch a summer long-jump competition called Berlin Fliegt.

But on the western side, bordering the Tiergarten Park, about 6000 people have assembled to express their outrage over United States National Security Agency (NSA) spying.

Their anger is palpable

During speeches by politicians and activists, you hear a reoccurring theme: in the year since the spying allegations were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Germans still do not know the full extent of their own government's cooperation with the NSA.

A small number of the protesters are expats, such as Isabel Cole of the group, American Voices Abroad.

"It's important for citizens not to be under mass surveillance," Cole told DW. "Because mass surveillance means you're treating citizens as suspects in a sweeping way."

Patrick Breyer, a Pirate Party member of the Schleswig-Holstein regional assembly, echoes Cole's sentiment.

Hannover - Protest against the NSA - one wearing an
From anonymous masks to the cult of Snowden: image is everythingImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"When we are under constant surveillance, we can't behave as freely as we would otherwise," Breyer said during the event. "Excessive surveillance threatens to deter political protest and activism and also harms the free press, because informants find it more difficult to inform the press when they are under surveillance, and can't rely on anonymity."

Yet some people worry that the data privacy movement is drowning out moderate voices, Cole's and Breyer's included.

And the reason is one of style, substance, and noise.

During the anti-spying protest, you couldn't help but notice that much of the crowd consisted of men in their 20s and 30s, many of whom bobbed their heads to metal music blaring from a live performance as if at a rock concert.

Some of the men even wore Anonymous masks on their faces.

A different style

It's this imagery that a group called Akkurater Widerstand (accurate resistance) aims to counter.

Though they number only 30 people, they were able to make their presence felt.

Their choice of business suits made them stand out.

And that's just the point, says the group's founder, Michael Bukowski.

"We want to create a familiar imagery for people at home, watching us on TV or reading about us in the paper," Bukowski says. "We don't want to look like Internet nerds or freaks."

Bukowski wants to reach the so-called "normal people" watching the long-jump competition on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate.

But he will have his work cut out for him: one study suggests 75 percent of Germans say they aren't worried about NSA spying.

Protest group Akkurater Widerstand, Berlin. Founder Michael Bukowski
Bukowski: targets "normal people" because data protection affects us allImage: Sebastian Sooth

Still other studies paint a more nuanced picture of a German public skeptical of using the Internet for private communications.

And then there's the begrudging acknowledgement of the need to track terrorists online, as revealed by a Pew Research Center study: while 70 percent of Germans think it is fine for the US government to spy on terrorism suspects, 87 percent think it is wrong for the US to spy on them.

Bukowski says he isn't deterred by what some have described as apathy among Germans towards the NSA revelations.

He thinks the best way to win supporters to his cause is to make the case that unregulated government spying affects everyone, not just the Internet and tech savvy.

"Our privacy isn't a game," says Bukowski. "Privacy matters to everyone. So we try to look like 'everyone' in order to win supporters to our movement."

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