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EDRi member FoeBuD staged the twelfth German Big Brother Awards on
Friday, 13 April 2012 in Bielefeld, Germany. Seven “winners” were
presented, and as in most years, none of these sent a representative to
receive their award. Still, the organisers suspect that one or two
winners were represented in the audience, judging from the silent and
very earnest demeanour kept by a few guests in officious clothing.
The winner in the “Government and Administration” category was the
Interior Minister of the state of Saxony, Markus Ulbig, who had earned
his prize shortly before the previous awards, but after the close of
nominations. The reason for the award had been stunningly excessive
queries of mobile phone cell data in Dresden after an anti-neonazi
demonstration in February 2011. Connection and location data for more
than one million phone calls had been requested and received, which the
award speech described as a “data tsunami”. The winners show no sign of
regret, and the data records are still not deleted.
The “Communication” award went to “the cloud”, to highlight the
dangerous trend that entices users to relinquish control over their own
data to remote servers, exposing them to observation by foreign
governments – US cloud providers are obliged to give access by the
Patriot Act, even if their servers are situated in Europe. Another
threat is that in case the provider or a government should find any
stored content offensive, it might lead to account closure.
The Interior Minister in the German federal government was cited in the
“Politics” category. Hans-Peter Friedrich received his award for three
joint security projects that each violates the constitutional principle
of separating the police, intelligence services and the military. These
projects are a “national cyber defence centre” and a defence centre
against right-wing extremism, both of these established without
consulting the Parliament, and a database on violent right-wing extremism.
The “Consumer Protection” award went to Blizzard Entertainment, the
company behind online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, for
various violations of their users’ privacy. Blizzard have required
players to run a program that scans their computers for “bot” software,
they have continually extended the recording of gaming and communication
activity, and they tried to introduce an obligation to use real names in
their online forums.
In the “Technology” category, the Gamma Group of companies was chosen
for having created surveillance software named “FinFisher” and offering
it to authoritarian governments. Documents found in Egypt when state
security agency offices were stormed in the 2011 revolution showed that
the government had rated FinFisher very positively. The governments of
Oman und Turkmenistan are also known to have been offered Gamma’s services.
The “Workplace” award was won by Bofrost, a German-based manufacturer
and home delivery service for frozen foods. In connection with
industrial law court cases that Bofrost conducted and lost, they
accessed a file on a computer belonging to the Bofrost staff council
(staff councils are ”shop-floor” organizations representing employees at
the company level in labour negotiations; they are a major element of,
and therefore protected by, the co-determination provisions in German
industrial law). On another staff council computer, the remote control
software Ultra VNC was installed without the staff council’s consent.
Bofrost have pursued these industrial law cases through appeal courts,
and they threatened FoeBuD with an injunction over certain details of
the award speech (which FoeBuD were happy to leave out because the core
of their award speech was not affected).
The “Economy” award went to a water filter producer, Brita GmbH, for
their scheme to set up tap water vending machines in schools under the
name of “schoolwater”. Users are required to buy RFID-chipped bottles in
order to prevent excessive use of their “flatrate” payment plan: the
RFID system records when a vending machine is used and “locks” the
bottle for 10 minutes. The award speech criticised this as an attempt to
turn a resource as basic as water into a commercial commodity, and at
the same time introduce a culture of over-technologisation and
surveillance to children.
At the end of the gala, the audience was asked to choose one award that
they found particularly “impressive, stunning, shocking, revolting,
…”. With more than a third of the votes, the audience chose the
Economy award, won by Brita’s “schoolwater” scheme.
Nominations for the next German BBAs were opened on 1 January 2012 and
will close on 31 December. The (German) nomination form is at
https://www.bigbrotherawards.de/nominate; PGP-encrypted email to
firstname.lastname@example.org or fax and mail can also be used.
Winners at BBA Germany 2012 (13.04.2012)
EDRi-gram: Big Brother Awards Germany 2011 (6.04.2011)
(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken, EDRi member FoeBuD)