Germans and privacy law

There was an article in The Times on March 31: German obsession with privacy let killer pilot fly. The Times is not available free online but here is a link for those who can get it: Times article.

The article is by the Times Berlin correspondent David Charter and it argues that the crash could have been prevented if it weren’t for the confidentiality of German doctors.

German politicians have called for an overhaul of privacy laws that ­required doctors treating Andreas Lubitz to keep the killer co-pilot’s medical details secret from Lufthansa unless he obviously posed an “imminent danger”.

But that doesn’t mean that UK doctors would not be in the same dilemma.

It’s true that privacy law is stronger in Germany, as indeed the article goes on to say.

Under a German law that was passed in 1907, giving “the right to your own picture”, personal images may not be circulated or put on public display unless the consent of the ­person portrayed is given, which ­explains why the newspapers often pixillate some faces, and have not published pictures of Patrick Sonderheimer, the Germanwings captain, or members of Lubitz’s family.

General personal rights enshrined in the constitution lie behind the strict protection of individual identities in the German media, with many publications still referring to the co-pilot as Andreas L.

Andrew Hammel writes about the way German newspapers are loth to name Lubitz, whereas they were quick to name the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris: Respect our Privacy, say Germans About Germans. He links to a Washington Post article on the same subject:

Crash challenges German identity, notions of privacy

But at least by American standards, many Germans are expressing neither a strong sense of moral outrage nor a clamor to point the finger of blame.
The reason may lie in the sense that the crash is suddenly challenging some of the fundamental tenets of German life: that its titans of industry do not make mistakes. That well-thought-out rules — including those severely limiting the sharing of medical data — are things to be trusted in and strictly enforced. That in a country where Edward Snowden is nothing less than a folk hero, personal privacy must trump all else.

2 thoughts on “Germans and privacy law

  1. The 1907 bit is interesting (and quite African). You’ll have read the theory elsewhere that Germany privacy laws are a response to Mr Hitler, who wouldn’t have got where he did without Versailles, and so it’s all the French’s fault, as usual.

  2. The right of personality is based on the Basic Law (1949) now, and it’s wider than just right to one’s image, but it apparently goes back to an article by Friedrich Kitzinger in 1907 (search: persönlichkeitsrecht 1907). As for Hitler, it looks as if the right of personality and copyright were redefined in 1939, but I am not sure if that relates to what you mention. Perhaps your reference is to Article 1, human dignity, obviously related.

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