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    International Privacy Stories from the Holidays

    Here are a few stories concerning privacy and civil liberties internationally that were published while Privacy Lives was dark.

    Wall Street Journal: China Is Losing a War Over Internet

    The Wall Street Journal reports on the crackdown on Internet use by the Chinese government.

    The dozen or so years since the Web came to China have seen repeated rounds of crackdowns and detentions, aided by a steady growth in scope and sophistication of the government’s filtering apparatus that critics dub the Great Firewall. Still, the Internet has enabled more Chinese to have more access to information today, and given them greater ability to communicate and express themselves than at any time since the founding of the People’s Republic. […]

    The Great Firewall’s power used to be in the government’s ability to keep its vast Internet control system under the radar of Chinese users, few of whom use the Web mainly for politics.

    Now, “fan qiang”—a cyber dissident’s phrase meaning to “scale the wall”—has become standard lingo for Chinese Internet users of many persuasions. […]

    In another case, [the Internet was used to] spread awareness that officials blamed the death of a man in police custody on a game of hide-and-seek with other inmates that turned deadly, which in turn led to accusations by Internet users of a cover-up. A relatively small—and growing—group of savvy Internet users have been able to able to access blocked social networking sites such as Twitter to express defiance over Beijing’s Web restrictions and to share banned information.

    More broadly, the Internet has given citizens a chance to discuss and organize action on sensitive issues. […]

    To say that the censors are losing isn’t to say they have lost. If the Communist Party’s grip over information is loosening, it is far from clear whether its hold on political power in China is ultimately threatened by the trend.

    New Zealand Herald: Internet service blocked over privacy fears

    The New Zealand Herald reports on controversy over a new feature from Google.

    An internet service launched last week by Google to help cameraphone users to identify strangers in the street has been blocked because of alarm over its threat to personal privacy.

    The new service, called Goggles, is a picture search which uses images rather than words to trawl the web. By taking a picture of an object and clicking “search”, owners of smartphones can recognise landmarks, identify a species of plant or animal, or obtain tasting notes for a bottle of wine.

    Users focus their phone’s camera on the object, and Google compares elements of that picture against its database.

    When it finds a match, it provides the name of the object pictured and a list of results linking through to the relevant web pages and news stories. Goggles is claimed to be able to recognise tens of millions of objects and places and is growing all the time.

    But the most controversial aspect of the new visual search tool is its capacity to allow users to take a photo of a stranger to find out more about them. […]

    Google has now confirmed that it is blocking this use of Goggles until the implications have been fully explored.

    Deutsche Welle: ‘Monster’ German employee database goes online

    Deutsche Welle reports on a new system in Germany containing employment data.

    Under new legislation that came into effect on January 1, German employers must now submit their employees’ income data to a government-sponsored central mainframe. The database is believed to form part of Germany’s largest ever data acquisition program.

    Employers must now send information monthly to the so-called ELENA database regarding workers’ contributions to Germany’s social programs.

    Beginning in 2012, Germany’s social welfare authorities will be able to use this data to assess whether to pay out or refuse benefits to applicants.

    Trade unions and civil rights groups have criticised the project, while the Pirate Party – which is concerned about the amount of information being collected – referred to it as an “excessive heightening and storage of personal data.” […]

    In addition to data on employees salaries, also to be stored in the central database will be information about whether an employee has participated in strike action, and data on worker absenteeism. […]

    Around 3.2 million German employees provide an estimated 60 million income and employment certificates for workers every year.

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