Tue, Sep. 11, 2007

Securing Satellite Data

GC - Washington.   September 10, 2007 marked the beginning of a discussion of the proposed Satellite Data Security Statute, SatDGSiG, in the federal diet in Berlin. The bill comes as a result of military and security officials concerned about terrorist groups and others with malicious intentions obtaining satellite data to undermine the country's and international security systems.

However, much of the discussion regarding the proposed bill has turned to better securing legal protection of personal information garnered from satellite images, an issue the bill does not address. Thilo Weichert, director of the Independent National Center for Data Protection Schleswig-Holstein, ULD, and Detlef Walter from the Office of Federal Commissioners for Data Protection are two of the most prominent officials lobbying for greater protection of personal information.

Weichert believes it necessary to create a separate law that protects potentially highly-sensitive data taken from satellites that could infringe upon personal privacy. With approximately 80% of the ground in Germany being privately owned, it would require too great an effort to demand everyone agree to the release of private satellite data. Instead, Weichert proposes a right to deny the publication of private information as well as restrictions on the generally available satellite data from providers such as Google Earth.

Infoterra, a German geodata information provider, is pleased with the legislation as it stands. The bill will help allow the use of components in German satellite systems subject to American export controls. Currently, the United States refuses the export of such parts without a statement of military security, something that the Satellite Data Security Statute could provide. Others believe that the statute is not necessary because the components could also be made in Germany.

Additional Observations - CK
1. Statutory Language:
The SatDGSiG bill is quite restrictive, requiring licensing of geodata distributors, imposing extensive and expensive record-keeping obligations, and complementing the restrictions with harsh civil and criminal sanctions. The bill contains vague and possibly overbroad language.

2. Harmful to Innovation:
Innovation in the important field of mash-ups of geodata will suffer. Well-established companies may be able to comply with the planned statute and future regulations. Innovators in basements and garages will be unable to comply, even with the basic licensing requirements.

3. Extraterritorial Effects:
The bill also has extraterritorial effects. German citizens working abroad may not be involved in systems that may be perfectly legal where they reside if German rules could be affected; the criminal provisions in §30 reach them world-wide. Germans employed by Google Earth in the United States may have to obtain a German license under the insular approach of the statute. As a result, German investment abroad in such technology may also suffer. In addition, licensed users will need to make delicative value judgments on sensitive data, not only with regard to their sensitivity in Germany but also as perceived abroad.

4. Privacy Expectations:
With regard to the objections from data-protection experts, their reported views appear myopic. Geodata includes much more than satellite data. Addressing privacy expectations for a limited range of geodata in a fragmented approach makes little sense. In addition, resolving a fraction of data-protection issues in the context of licensing the collection and distribution of satellite data seems counter-productive where a comprehensive system of data-protection laws exists, as is the case the European Union inclding Germany.


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