Friday, September 19, 2008

Why would Germans claim their "privacy" laws prevents them from publishing a list of victims of Nazi terror?

There was a short report in the BBC today which struck me, my highlights in red :  

"The federal archive in Berlin has for the first time compiled a list of some 600,000 Jews who lived in Germany up to 1945 and were persecuted by the Nazis.

The names and addresses, which took four years to compile, will be made available to Holocaust groups to help people uncover the fate of relatives.

Archive officials from the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation said the list was not yet definitive and would require further work.

It will not be released to the public because of Germany's privacy laws, but will be passed on to museums and institutions, including Israel's national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.

"In handing over this list, we want to make a substantial contribution to documenting the loss that German Jewry suffered through persecution, expulsion and destruction," said Guenter Saathof, the head of foundation."

I'm a privacy legal expert, and it's baffling to me why German "privacy" laws would prevent this list from being published to the Internet.   This is a valuable historical document.  Putting it on the Internet would allow people around the world to study it.  I would like to see if my grandfather is on the list.  I could check if his address in Berlin was indeed correct.  I think this information belongs to humanity.  

Now, of course, I can imagine certain privacy issues.  A very very small number of people included in the list may still be alive.  Privacy laws are only meant to protect living human beings, after all, not dead people or their reputations after death.  Other laws, like libel laws, can apply after death, but privacy laws cannot.  So, I would call on the Foundation to publish its work on the Internet.  I think it is wrong to cite "privacy" laws as a reason not to make this information public.   

Because, after all, whose "privacy" are we protecting now, for a list which includes names and addresses from something like 70 years ago, and most of whom have been dead for over half a century?

This is the sort of nonsense that gives German privacy law a bad name.