Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Privacy Issues Involved in the Release of the Cell Phone Data to Locate the E.Coli / EHEC Outbreak ( a month later)

Igor, I can't help playing advocatus diaboli.

On the one hand, I think your idea of using cell phone data is great and somebody should really test it and see if it actually helps in such a situation.

On the other hand, the infrastructure needed is problematic. The highest German court restricted access to such data to investigations in connection with severe felonies (murder, rape etc); the original laws were unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, politicians in Germany constantly ask for more data to be collected -- after all the infrastructure is there and it creates many desires.

What I'm trying to say is that, if it works (which I think it will), there still might be sensible reasons not to follow the idea.

I have two words for this well taken privacy argument: Malte Sptiz. When someone wants to give out their information to the public in Germany, they can.

We are not talking about taking data away without consent. We are talking about citizens giving the OK to the telcos to release a certain type of information to the investigative teams. After this outbreak and the dust settles, a law could provide some framework for this. In particular, the legislator would be well advised to provide some sort of immunity to people giving this data away ( a little bit like the good samaritan laws in the books in most democracies in the world)


Anonymous said...

Hi Igor,
the situation is even more restricted than Peter wrote: The data you mentioned do not exist! According to the decision of the federal constitutional court (the highest German court) cell phone operators are just just allowed to collect data for charging issues and have to delete everything else as soon as possible.

Igor said...

Hello Anonymous,

If this is the case, how come Mr. Sptiz was able to get that data ?

what are the cases defined by the supreme court for the retaining of that information ? ( I am a little bit surprised that this information does not exist any more if the SC allowed for it to be used in cases of rape/murder, i.e. not immediately recognizable offences sometimes).

If the data has to be collected for charging issue and somehow there is a litigation between the plaintiff and the telco, what type of record can the telco show if everything has been erased ? Most billing are monthly or bi-monthly, so given what I just said, my take is that this data still exists as we speak.

Thomas Arildsen said...

Hi Igor,
As a follow up to my comment a couple of days ago, the Ingeniøren newspaper's website ran a short story today that mentions the mobile data approach:
See if Google Translate can make any sense of it. Otherwise, let me know and I'll give you a summary. I'd be happy to discuss it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Igor,
the court decided March 2010, before the cell phone operators had to save data for six month. The data of Mr. Spitz had been recorded before this decision. I don't know about exceptions for severe crimes or other cases where usage of the (few) existing data is permitted.

Up to my knowledge the triangulated position of the phone is not saved for charging issues. Elsewise, the data exist just if there was a phone call at this time. Nevertheless, in Germany there are a lot of mobile phones that are billed by flatrate or prepaid. In those cases there are most probably no data at all.

Peter said...

Igor, thanks for picking this up. I had assumed you didn't mean analyzing the data without consent :)

I also knew of the politician making his data public -- it was a nice publicity stunt to visualize the issues of data collection (well before the iPhone 'bug').

German Wikipedia agrees with Anonymous that there's no more data -- the German constitutional court ordered providers to delete all of it.

I don't know what providers are allowed to store for billing purposes, though I do remember that they are not allowed to store it for long (30 days I think, but that'd be plenty for your idea).

In any case, all I wanted to point out is that, as a society, we might decide not to implement a procedure because it restricts our freedom (or because a better idea could be to improve the health care system, medical research or produce sanitation).

But that's all the more reason to test your idea because if there are many positive effects and the negative effects of data collecting can be held in check I might be in favour after all.

Peter said...

Igor, I also misrepresented the court's decision regarding severe felonies. From what I understand now they pointed out that any future law for such data collection can only apply to severe felonies to be constitutional; the way I had written it, I made it sound as if the data is still being collected and can be accessed in such cases.