Germany's new e-ID cards raise hackles over privacy

Tue Nov 2, 2010 12:56pm EDT
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By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has introduced electronic identity cards that store personal data on microchips, raising fears over data protection in a country especially wary of surveillance due to its Nazi and Stasi past.

The so-called eIDs enable owners to identify themselves online and sign documents with an electronic signature, which the government says should "increase the safety and convenience of e-business and e-commerce."

Yet many Germans fear the eIDs -- which store the owner's date and place of birth, address and biometric photo, with fingerprints voluntary -- could expose them to data theft.

In a country where historical memories of the Nazi Gestapo and old Communist East Germany's Stasi security police linger, there are also worries about an invasion of privacy.

Johannes Caspar, head of Hamburg's data protection agency, said some of the fears about the eIDs were no doubt the result of German history, in which the state twice acted as a kind of "Big Brother" collecting and storing data about its citizens.

Under Hitler's Nazi dictatorship, the Gestapo secret police kept close tabs on its citizens and under the Communist regime in East Germany the Stasi infiltrated nearly every aspect of life. It collected so much information about citizens that its files would stretch 112 km (70 miles) if laid out flat.


Small wonder, then, that Germans take data collection so seriously, as if it were part of their cultural identity, Caspar told Reuters.   Continued...