Freiheit statt Angst - Freedom, not fear
By bblfish on Sep 14, 2009
This weekend in Berlin, 20 thousand people, from most political backgrounds, came to protest against increasingly intrusive and worrying surveillance measures of all kinds, made possible by modern information technology, under the banner Freiheit statt Angst. As governments and businesses automate the collection of information about individuals, worries are starting to grow about how that information could be used. In Germany for example the request by the government that the ISPs keep records of the mail headers of all the communications between people for 6 months, was among one of the major motivators bringing people out. The growing use of video surveillance cameras - not as bad as in the UK here, though they were clearly lining the street along the road of the demonstration - is another vector of resentment. Electronic RFID enabled passports containing personal information readable at a distance and being put into operation soon, generate a lot of worries, quite understandable, especially after listening to Chris Paget's RFID cloning presentation. The German Chaos Computer Club has further pages undermining the use of these technologies, such as the article "How to fake fingerprints" where you can learn how to capture fingerprints left over on a glass, make a copy of it, and duplicate it anywhere you choose. Others are worried about the creation of centralised medical data banks, citing the cases where massive amounts of data have been lost by companies directly involved in telecommunication infrastructure, such as when the information of 17 million T-mobile customers was stolen. If telecoms companies can't secure their data, who will be able to do it? These and many other cases bringing issues of privacy, security and data ownership are fueling a debate that is strong enough to move 20 thousand people to the street: quite a feat, considering the abstract nature of the debate.
The following video covers the issues from a German perspective very well (an english version will be available here soon)
If these issues sound remarkably like those arising in France, the UK, and other European Countries, it is that the movement for internet rights is a global phenomenon, reacting to technological problems that span borders as the July/August issue of Internationale Politik argues. Clearly these topics need to be debated in much more depth and with much more seriousness, by involving much larger sections of the community. One just cannot magically solve complex problems with misguided laws, however comforting it may seem at first to be. Bad solutions introduced in a climate of fear, can only grow the insecurity and mistrust between citizens, governments and business. With Germany's historical proximity to both fascist and communist surveillance regimes, these issues of trust are alive and healthy here. Hopefully other countries won't be misled by their distance to such horrors into thinking that it cannot happen to them. The only solution is active participation in the debate.
Here are some photos I took from the roof of the Green bus which gives a good idea of the size of the protest. You can clearly see the large Pirate Party bus at the back, with their Orange banner, the Red Left convoy, the CCC bus covered with video surveillance cameras, and their Federal Trojan Horse, with the sign "watch the watchmen!"
The Green party was escorted by some of the top Green politicians
The large Anti-Fascist convoy was ironically the most escorted by the police. Perhaps the use of face covering masks, illegal in Germany for citizens, though not it seems for the police, was what attracted the security forces. Their presence certainly formed a good symbol of the problem between privacy, public statement, anonymity, and surveillance.
Add to that the fact that there were close to a thousand police officers for a demonstration the police claimed had attracted only 10 thousand individuals, and we have a police to demonstrator ration of 1/10, which goes only to increase the surveillance message. As the following photos show quite clearly the demonstration was peaceful. Put 20 000 geeks on the road on a sunny day, and you get something like this:
The result in the press was quite positive. Here are some of the articles I gathered from following Twitter #fsa09 tag for a few minutes:
- ZDNet.de: 25.000 Menschen demonstrieren gegen Überwachung, Vorratsdatenspeicherung und Zensur
- donaukurier.de: Tausende demonstrieren gegen Überwachung
- Gruene.de: Das Grundgesetz ist kein Steinbruch, for some interviews of Green participants
- n-tv.de: Großdemonstration in Berlin Gegen Überwachungswahn
- Spiegel Online: Demo gegen Überwachung - Veranstalter gehen von 20.000 Teilnehmern aus
- netzpolitik.org: Freiheit statt Angst im Fernsehen - collection of TV reportages on the event
- Abendshau: YouTube video of the news bulletin
- Radio IBS Liberty: Freiheit statt Angst Berlin
- golem.de: Freiheit statt Angst: Über 25.000 demonstrieren in Berlin
- Heise.de: "Ihr werdet euch noch wünschen, wir wären politikverdrossen!", review of the demonstration, and links to press conference videos by the Swedish EU representativce of the Pirate Party.
- Spiegel.de: Polizeichef verspricht Aufklärung der Demo-Prügelei. Article on the one police incident that marred the demonstration.
- Taz.de: Chaos Computer Club überwacht Polizei: "Das wurde dezidiert gefilmt": The Chaos Computer Club defends itself of filming police asked to reveal their identification number - which they are legally obliged to do. Oddly enough those question were usually followed by police violence, captured on film.
One story that made the round of Twitter, the blogosphere and the news was the following incident of police brutality captured by a demonstrator on video:
[Update Tuesday 15 September: It seems this incident was provoked by a demonstrator asking the police for their Identification number, which they are obliged to give, but which they don't like handing out, preferring to treat those who ask for it as troublemakers. This is a long standing issue as the following article "Anonymität schützt Polizisten" - Anonymity protects the police explains. So in short the police themselves and the state by extension are very keen on anonymity, but refuse the same for the demonstrators and the public which is being placed every day under increasing surveillance measures. Luckily the attack was caught on High Definition video by a member of the Chaos Computer Club, helping identify the police who committed the excess. This resulted in the CCC publishing the following press release "Chaos Computer Club fordert bundeseinheitliche Nummernschilder für Polizisten": CCC calls for nationwide number plates for Police.]
Clearly then the same tools that can be used to create a surveillance society, can also be used when distributed to the citizenry as a means of watching the watchmen. Perhaps that is the lesson of the demonstration: the need to reduce the asymmetry of surveillance technology. It should be understood that Kant's Categorical Imperative - "act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law" - applies especially to legislation. If you want to watch others don't be surprised if they then watch back. If you want anonymity, don't refuse it to others.
- Spanish translation: Libertad, no miedo - Freiheit statt Angst - Freedom, not fear - Contra la manía de la Vigilancia
- Italian translation: Contro la Mani Di Conrollo: Liberta'...non Paura!