Thirty years ago, East Germany was a paranoid, failing communist state in the late stages of economic collapse, a victim of flawed ideology and poor execution. But one thing East Germans did better than most nations at the time was spy on their own people.
Today, the Bundestag passed a law permitting reunified Germany, for vastly different reasons, most of them good, to basically do the same. With little resistance, lawmakers set in motion the video surveillance of public places – sport stadiums, shopping centers and pedestrian walkways.
In the United States, and especially in Britain, the video-surveillance capital of Europe, pedestrians have become accustomed to living under the eye of security cameras. Germany, because of its Stasi and Nazi past, had resisted widespread tracking in the years following 9-11.
But the Christmas market attack that killed 12 people in Berlin pushed Germany reluctantly into the present. More specifically, it prompted legislators to cast off a key pillar of the nation’s strict privacy law – the right to control one’s own image.
Most of the world may not think it really matters if German shoppers, or Bayern Munich fans, are now routinely videotaped for preventative purposes by unseen security or police officials. And in a sense, it doesn’t matter, especially if it stops the next maniacs from their carnage.
But in a global sense, when the privacy meter moves in Germany, it shifts for the rest of the world too.