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German politician demands Europe-wide crackdown on data protection – and restrictions on US companies

Germans are known for being sticklers for privacy, particularly in the online realm. So in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, it isn't entirely surprising that German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is calling for stronger data protection laws in Europe – and restricted access for US companies who fail to comply.


In an interview with Die Welt, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (a member of German political party FDP) said she wants Germany's strict data protection laws to be set as a benchmark for the rest of Europe, to ensure the EU takes a stronger stand against the NSA's spying activities. She called for companies that don't abide to the new standards to be restricted from doing business in Europe but did not clarify details.

In July, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger's fellow FDP party member Rainer Brüderle also argued that Europe needs more effective and consolidated data protection laws and that Germany must work to become more independent from the US.

Data privacy becomes hot election year topic

In an election year, the issue of online privacy has become a hot topic amongst German politicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire for not taking a strong enough stand on the NSA scandal, especially after it was revealed that Germany was as significant a surveillance target for the US as Iraq and China.

[contentad keyword= "left"] The question of surveillance of European citizens has also occupied the European Commission, which has launched an enquiry into the NSA's activities. The parliament expressed strong concerns at the programme's mass collection of European's data and shock at revelations of US spying on EU operations in Washington, New York and Brussels.

In the past, Germany's tight data protection laws have caused trouble for large internet companies including Facebook, which appeared in a German court last year for banning user pseudonyms. The social network won the case: the court found German data protection laws did not apply as Facebook’s headquarters in Europe are in Ireland. The implication is that Irish data protection laws, as long as they comply with the current EU-wide standards, also apply to users in Germany.

Google also faced a $190,000 fine this year for snooping on public wifi data with Google Street View in Germany.

Image credit: Flickr freiheitsfreund 

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