The Digital World
Within a very short space of time the World Wide Web has revolutionised our lives – whether we use the Internet to glance through the electronic version of a newspaper, conduct research for a presentation, or search an online media library, two-thirds of the entire population of Germany already use the Internet.
Computers are increasingly becoming an extension of our minds. If you look at people’s Internet habits, you will already be able to find out an awful lot about their lives. It is precisely because the nature of people’s privacy in the digital world is changing that it is so important that civil rights in this area be further developed. Modern civil rights policy must therefore adapt the guiding principle of a democratic state governed by the rule of law – the protection of freedoms – to the changing digital world.
The big issues turn on the following questions: How can the rights of the individual be protected in future? And how much data may be collected by the state? In the age of IT databases, the right to self-determination regarding information pertaining to ourselves is under threat. This is an opinion that is shared by a large part of the population in Germany. The issue of data retention triggered the largest-scale action ever to be taken before the Federal Constitutional Court in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, and this action succeeded. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled that “it is part of the constitutional identity of the Federal Republic of Germany that citizens’ enjoyment of freedom may not be totally recorded and registered.”
Society, the judiciary and those in the political arena must step up to the challenge of finding new rules for the information that is exchanged online. Many citizens are not aware of what exactly their rights on the Internet encompass. After all, when can you be completely certain if a specific picture or link can actually be used, and if so, for what purpose? Are search engines allowed to keep a record of who searched for what on which date? How long does content remain online? And what exactly are geodata tools such as Google Street View permitted to do? These questions concern how we interact with the Internet on a daily basis and have recently been the subject of intense debate.
The question of what is the right way to fight child pornography on the Internet is still the subject of much discussion. The initial intention of the Act to Impede Access was that pages containing child pornography should be blocked by the German Federal Criminal Police office and service providers. However, blocking access to sites does not actually solve the problem, as the content remains on the Internet. In fact, notices that content has been blocked become unintentional signposts for paedophiles, and can easily be circumvented. For that reason, the Federal Government has agreed on the new principle of removing content instead of blocking access. An evaluation is to be carried out after a period of one year to assess the success and effectiveness of this approach.