In this time, mobile phones have become commonplace, having your own email address and finding services over the internet is standard behaviour even if people are rather hesitant about e-commerce. Hardly anyone is aware that mobile phones' locations are continuously tracked and stored, that emails are easier to "eavesdrop" than postcards and that unsolicited commercials are not by far the worst thing that can happen to you after a carefree frolic of leaving data traces on the internet.
To call for an "educated consumer" is not enough. Reacting only when a particular abuse of data has happened will not do for a considered response. It takes critical observation of developments (like the omnipresence of surveillance cameras, practices like merging databases from different sources, collecting and evaluating user profiles, the address trade etc.) and raising the alarm when dubious uses of technology can be seen lingering on the horizon. And it requires informing consumers in an appropriate way. Many believe that data protection will not affect them ("I don't care", "I've got nothing to hide", "if it improves security, so be it"). Some method must be found to communicate potential dangers through the media in an appealing way.
The Big Brother Awards make the abstract topic of data protection interesting and give it public profile. Issues become tangible and understandable as concrete examples are pointed out. This is confirmed by the large response in the public and the wide media coverage achieved by the first German Big Brother Awards in October 2000.
Digitized and Sold Out: Democracy
Information processing that deprives people of the knowledge which data is collected about them at which point is not only an infringement of individual rights, it is also inconsistent with a democratic society based on the rule of law. People who are constantly observed, registered, marketed and accompanied by specially tailored suggestions and commercial offerings will change their behaviour over time to match with the expectations of those data-processing institutions in the background. The means of individualized manipulation and the pressure to adapt with the factual world lead to increased external control. This endangers fundamental principles of human rights laid down e.g. in the German constitution: human dignity and the right to free development of the personality.
People who feel observed in such a way will perhaps avoid using other fundamental rights like the right to free speech or free assembly. Thus the loss of informational self-determination can destroy the ability of free communication and participation. A wealth of ideas, opinions and talents is lost to the community. And so is the interest in issues that go beyond what immediately affects the individual.
What's at stake is therefore not just your own private sphere of interest, which you are free to negotiate individually and possibly give away at your own choice. Increasingly the issue lies in the fundamental rights that are not negotiable but indispensable for the common good and the continued existence of democracy.
These conclusions have been made by the German constitutional court as early as the 15 Dec 1983 in its "Census judgement":