Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The great Google Mail German Shutdown debacle

There have been several articles in recent days (e.g. VNUNet, Secure Computing and Heise) about Google's threat to close down its German email service, should the Bundestag implement new data retentention laws. Google is normally keen to retain all info about our digital lives, in order to better target advertising, yet in this instance they're saying no to state supervision. So what is all the fuss about?

The best overview I've found to this is on Spiegel (in German). The issue is critical, and not just for ISPs. In general, the aim is to log by default as much addressing info as possible for digital communication: email, VOIP, SMS,... An example of the extent is that MNOs will be required to save details of your cell location while you are calling and texting! The fact that it is illegal to save the content of the email, SMS, whatever, is only a partial reprieve, because the addressees, subject line, sending IP address, etc. already provides an unhealthy indication of message content and intent.

Although ostensibly a tool for the state authorities to monitor terrorism (come on, what terrorist is going to register his name and address, this is only going to affect honest people) the data once saved will doubtless be nirvana for the litigation-minded content industry, eager to know who's been surfing where.

Of course the ISPs and MNOs don't want to go along with this, as it raises their operations costs and scares away their customers. It's also highly improbable that they would be able to implement the technical changes required by the proposed date of 01.01.2008.

This legislation is still in draft form, and I encourage all respecters of privacy to visit this site (unfortunately only in German) and send a letter to your Bundestagsabgeordnete.

Footnote: As I'm geo-located in Germany with a address, I'm still not sure whether this would affect my email. I'm fairly sure that I can connect to gmail via a proxy, but I'm hoping it won't come that far...

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See also this post on, with quotes from Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer.

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