Sunday, June 14, 2015

The so-called data protection officer of the EPO signed off on keylogging, hidden cameras

Given Germany's experience with totalitarian surveillance states before and (in the eastern part) after World War II, I wonder for how long Germany's chancellor and minister of justice, as well as the Bundestag (parliament), can tolerate an international organization on German soil that appears to stop at nothing in its human rights violations. The European Patent Office (EPO) abuses its "immunity" and one of the first reform measures should be to put each facility of the EPO under the jurisdiction of the respective country, at least with respect to human rights including data privacy. There is now conclusive evidence that the EPO has violated basic human rights not only of its staff but even of unsuspecting visitors of one of the EPO's Munich facilities.

On Friday, the data protection officer of the state of Bavaria (whose capital is Munich, where the EPO is headquartered) was quoted by a newspaper (English translation here) with the suggestion "that an external data protection supervisor be assigned to the EPO because the internal inspectors are not independent enough and in the absence of any action matters are likely to get out of hand." It has become known that the EPO used keyloggers and hidden cameras in its internal investigations of what may actually just have been the exercise of one or more people's freedom of speech with respect to the EPO's Jack Warner, vice president Željko Topić. After Mr. Topić lost a court ruling in his country of origin (Croatia), can be accused of pretty bad stuff. The Bavarian data privacy commissioner was spot-on: while the EPO does have a "data protection officer," that person is just a dictator's minion with no say over anything important.

A document has been leaked to me that proves a complete dereliction of duty. The "data protection officer" in name only signed off on covert surveillance measures (keyloggers and hidden cameras) on December 3, 2014 with the following rationale:

"Given the seriousness of the allegations I consider the proposed measures as proportionate."

Seriousness of the allegations? Are you kidding? This here is not about an assassination plot, or about gaming the patent system in the sense that someone would have leaked sensitive information to a patentee's competitors, or about bribery in connection with patent grants. Under such circumstances I would actually support the use of covert surveillance (I'm all for law and order and not really a privacy activist, to be honest). But the request that the "data protection officer" (who is more than 25 years late to serve as a Stasi official) authorized merely refers to freedom-of-speech issues: "a sustained campaign of defamatory and insulting communications against [the EPO's Jack Warner], other senior managers of the Office and possibly Administrative Council Delegates, in the form of normal post and electronic mail."

I also have my doubts that the communications in question were "defamatory and insulting" in light of the aforementioned Croatian court ruling. It's fairly possible that some people just said what one would be allowed to say anywhere except under a lawless regime backed by government officials who are far more interested in getting a well-paid job at the EPO than in supervising its management.

The EPO's lawlessness knows no limits. It would have been unacceptable to use keyloggers and cameras for covert surveillance of people's workplaces, but as the approved request states, "[t]he workstations in question [...] are located in public or semi-public areas of one Office building in Munich."

Here's the complete document with certain passages marked up in red:

EPO 'Data Protection Officer' Authorizing Surveillance by Florian Mueller

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