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When Transparency International Gets Cloudy

DW staff (sms)
March 29, 2006

Unhappy when a recently-fired employee's complaints ended up on a blog, Transparency International hired lawyers to force the postings off the Internet. Big mistake.

Transparency International doesn't want others to have the key to its informationImage: Bilderbox

After "Moni"'s friend was fired after her new job's trial period -- not an uncommon occurrence in a country with over five million unemployed -- she, like the thousands Germany's bloggers who share their personal details with anyone willing to read them, took a few minutes to put the particulars on her blog, Gedankenträger.

That's when the Transparency International Germany set the lawyers loose.

The group that dedicates itself to opening all government and business books for anyone to have a look demanded no one cast as much as quick gaze at the blog post describing the way Moni's friend was fired and threatened legal action if the single, unemployed mother didn't remove the post.

Wahlen Italien Silvio Berlusconi
Bloggers caused a headache for the Transparency International PR machineImage: AP

No open arms waiting for Moni

"I assume you are aware of the legal as well as the financial consequences that would result for you," the letter stated.

Moni posted the letter, too.

Though she deleted the lawyer's name and the organization that sent it, the TI lawyers were not to be stopped and a second letter threatening legal action if the entry wasn't removed landed on Moni's doorstep, claiming the second entry broke copyright laws.

"To be honest I had actually expected that they would welcome a critical comment," Moni told Netzeitung.de. "After all, Transparency International, as anyone can read on their Web site, explicitly approves whistle blowing."

Bloggers take to the case

The lawyers might have been well-instructed to have left the long-ago archived post that had all but entered the Internet ether alone. It ended up being the organization's response that convinced dozens of German bloggers to expose a double standard in a group set on to bring light to the dark corners of bureaucracy. They reprinted the letter.

Zensur im Internet
Fearing a trip before the judge, Moni removed the postsImage: DW

Apparently TI didn't enjoying being the most searched-for term at technorati.com, a blog search engine, and has since decided against pressing legal charges against Moni, TI Germany's General Manger Dagmar Schröder told tagesschau.de.

"We simply asked our lawyer to get involved in the case," she said. "It's definitely possible to debate if the extent of the action was appropriate."

When asked what TI's next steps would be, Jochen Bäumel, a TI board member, replied "nothing."

"It doesn't matter what we do, it will be wrong," he added. "Maybe we shouldn't have reacted at all."