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Stolen Identity

DW staff (jg)
August 19, 2008

A scandal involving the illegal trade in customer data continues to grow in Germany. According to media reports, the country's biggest telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom, has also been affected.

A CD in an open safe
Authorities bought personal information about millions of Germans on the black marketImage: Bilderbox

A call center in Bremen illegally sold on information from Telekom databases to third parties, according to a report on the German public radio station Norddeutsche Rundfunk.

The telecommunications company said it had been the victim of "extremely criminal machinations." Telekom's databases contain the personal information of 30 million customers in total. But the company said the call center in question, which was working on behalf of the telecommunications giant, did not have full access to its data.

Telekom spokesman Philipp Blank told the AP news agency that database screen shots had been sold on. But he said his company had no information showing that the data had been used with any intention to defraud consumers.

Bigger problem than believed

Information is suspected to have originated from a call centerImage: Bilderbox

The scale of the trade in consumer data is clearly much greater than previously assumed. The German federation of consumer agencies presented the data of 6 million citizens, including the bank account details of 4 million of them, that he had managed to buy for 850 euros ($1,250).

The federation chairman, Gerd Billen, said it had not been a "big deal" to get hold of the data over the Internet. They mainly came from a lottery company, but also from mobile phone contracts and charitable organizations.

The federation urged people to be more careful with their personal details.

Tip of the iceberg

Last week, the consumer agency in Schleswig-Holstein was sent a CD-ROM with 17,000 people's personal details, including name, date-of-birth, telephone numbers, addresses and bank account information. In some cases, money had been withdrawn from their accounts without their permission.

The man who passed on the information claimed on Monday that this represents just a fraction of the data in his possession.

A pen pointing to a computer screen showing telephone numbers
The information included consumers' telephone and bank account numbersImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"It was only the first chunk of data," Detlef Tiegel told the German news magazine Spiegel. "In fact, I saved the addresses and banking information of 1.5 million clients."

Tiegel told reporters he was given the CD by his boss during a three-week stint working for a call center in the northern German city of Luebeck. The public prosecutors' office claims the center obtained the data illegally for business purposes.

The data protection commissioner for North Rhine-Westphalia Bettina Sokol has called for a general ban on the trade in personal data, which she said had spiraled out of control.

"It is necessary to have a general ban for the trade in personal information such as name, address, date-of-birth or profession. This should only be passed on for commercial purposes if a consumer has expressly given his or her permission," she said.

German data protection commissioner Peter Schaar also said that companies should not be allowed to hide clauses permitting the sale of such data in the small print.

The trade in data is not a peccadillo," he said.

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