International Action Day "Freedom not Fear" - 11.10.2008
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The first worldwide protests against surveillance measures such as the collection of all telecommunications data, the surveillance of air travellers and the biometric registration of citizens were held on 11 October 2008 under the motto "Freedom not Fear - Stop the surveillance mania!". In at least 15 countries citizens demanded a cutback on surveillance, a moratorium on new surveillance powers and an independent evaluation of existing surveillance powers. "A free and open society cannot exist without unconditionally private spaces and communications", explains an international memorandum.
The greatest protest march against surveillance in Germany's history took place in Berlin. Participants in the 2 km long peaceful protest march carried signs reading "You are Germany, you are a suspect", "No Stasi 2.0 - Constitution applicable here", "Fear of Freedom?" and "Glass citizens, brittle democracy". Apart from related music tracks, loud chants of "Belittle it today, be under surveillance tomorrow" or "We are here and we are loud because they are stealing our data" could be heard. During the protests, which were supported by more than 100 civil liberties groups, professional associations, unions, political parties and other organisations, artists played parodies on surveillance society.
In their final speeches in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the organisers called for political consequences: padeluun of civil liberties group FoeBuD said that in view of the mass protests politicians needed to react now and repeal the blanket retention of all telecommunications data introduced in 2006. Patrick Breyer of German Working Group on Data Retention (AK Vorrat) presented a five point plan according to which surveillance should be reduced, existing laws should be evaluated and plans for new surveillance measures should be halted. In the course of a "new, freedom-loving security policy" specific preventive measures such as youth projects should be invested in and the "real problems" of people such as poverty and education should be focused on. Ricardo Cristof Remmert-Fontes of AK Vorrat announced further action and invited participants to join parties held in seven participating clubs in Berlin under the motto "The long night of surveillance".
In other countries, the following events took place in the course of yesterday's "Freedom not Fear" day: Protest event with music and several art performances in Den Haag, lectures in Rome, surveillance camera mapping in Madrid, art performances in front of Parliament in Vienna, protest rallies in Paris, Prague, Sofia and Stockholm, the distribution of privacy software in Copenhagen, informative events in Guatemala City and Buenos Aires as well as a projection of light onto Toronto's Town Hall. In London, the construction of a surveillance state was opposed by creating a massive collage of photos on Parliament Square showing the prime minister and the action day's motto "Freedom not Fear".
Before the action day, Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung had warned of a "surveillance avalanche in Germany": According to the group, the German Parliament has tightened surveillance and control over citizens at least 21 times in the past 10 years. At least 18 more surveillance proposals are presently on the political agenda, for example the blanket collection of air travellers' data and the transfer of personal data to the US.
In an opinion published on 14 October 2008, the competent Advocate General at the European Court of Justice considered that the EU directive on data retention was enacted on the correct legal basis. The German Working Group on Data Retention pointed out that the Advocate General's opinion only concerns the action brought by the Irish government which is limited to formal issues. It is not concerned with the fact that registering the telecommunications behaviour and movements of the entire EU population in the absence of any reasonable suspicion is clearly disproportionate and violates human rights.
If the Court follows the Advocate General's opinion and dismisses Ireland's suit, it will need to consider the compatibility with human rights in a second proceeding. This second proceeding is likely to be initiated by the German Federal Constitutional Court where a suit of more than 34 000 citizens against data retention is pending.
In another case, The German Federal Constitutional Court is expected to decide shortly on an application for a preliminary injunction against the German law on data retention. The application is directed mainly against the retention of Internet access, anonymizing services and e-mail data which is to become effective on 1 January 2009. The Constitutional Court's final judgement will probably be passed after the European Court of Justice has decided on the human rights issues.
International Action Day "Freedom not fear - Stop the surveillance mania!"
on 11 October 2008
Freedom Not Fear: the Big Picture unveiled on Parliament Square (11.10.2008)
Advocate General Bot considets that the directive on data retention is
founded on an appropriate legal basis (14.10.2008)
Constitutional complaint filed against German Telecomms Data Retention Act
(contribution by German Working Group on Data Retention)