Privacy in Germany, it’s for banks too

Until now, Berlin has resisted the US-style publication of information about banks’ capital cushions because it feared the results could be manipulated, could send the wrong signals, and break German laws about commercial secrets.

The government’s U-turn is likely to rouse the anger of German banks, which have been in lock-step with Berlin so far in resisting the publication – and under German law they would have to approve any public use of their own data.

Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann last week warned that publishing the results of stress tests would be “very, very dangerous” if there were no “backstop facilities” in place to allow stressed banks to draw on new capital.

The full story, which includes information on Spain, is here.  The last paragraph may sound slightly ridiculous to an American reader — why make such an admission of vulnerability?  Yet in Germany privacy norms and laws are quite strong and virtually everyone will grant you the right to assert privacy.  If you are waiting at an ATM, you had better stand very far back, behind the person at the machine, otherwise you will hear about it.  Everyone at the university keeps their office doors closed, although not for the American reason of avoiding students.  The goal is to have a closed door and a private space between you and the rest of the world.  German blog readers who see you in public will talk less to you than would American blog readers.  "Direct mail" is considered not only a nuisance, but also a privacy violation.  People work next to each other for twenty years, and it's still just "Frau Mueller," etc.


In a way, I think your examples are confusing privacy with distance, especially the example of 'Frau/Herr.' The distinction between those who are du and who are Sie is very important, but has nothing to do with privacy - as illustrated by the reaction of many in the previous generation to try to eliminate it. Though the power of that movement has ebbed, it is very, very rare to hear two people in their 20s use 'Sie' to one another, at least in this region, though there are situations (bank teller / bank customer) where it will be at least considered correct to use Sie in virtually all cases, as a matter of tradition.

And part of the German framework of privacy is simple - allowing an institution to collect and distribute personal information can lead to that information being misused - as in the case, which basically every German I have ever talked to knows, of how Weimar social welfare data was used by the succeeding government as the basis of its attempt to handle social welfare in a manner more fitting its ideology.

Which is why Germans, in my experience, have such a hard time handing over ID in the U.S. simply because someone working at a counter asks to see it, for example, to simply enter a building. And why in Germany, many people (try in the hundreds of thousands) have already registered their objection to ANY data of theirs being included in Google's Street View, as it simply nobody's business.

The German concept, broadly speaking, is 'Informationelle Selbstbestimmung' (German link - ) - that is, the right for the individual to determine what private data is revealed, and how it is used. Which, for example, is one reason Germany has not had a census in decades - people do not feel the government has a right to collect personal data. Or why Datenschutz is a government function. I certainly have used the Landesbeauftragte für Datenschutz where I live to have American companies working in Germany take me off their e-mail lists back in the later 1990s.

This entire German framework is really no longer recognizable to Americans, though there may still be a few older cranky New Englanders that would understand it completely. My business is my business, and no one else's, regardless of what that other person may think.

When I went back to school I made a big deal about giving them my social security number.

The secretary said, "you are quite right. I've had my identity stolen twice in the last year. Now, the number please..."

"Everyone at the university keeps their office doors closed"

That must be wonderful and good for productivity. I've worked in a university where proposals for open-plan academic offices were seriously discussed. One of those places where students call you by your shortened first name (hey mike...).

The key word in these articles is that they will be published at a "future date."

If the results of the "stress tests" exist, why do they do not publish them now? Surely there is no shady backroom creative accounting going on...

too bad the germans aren't more private on the beaches of greece with their man thongs and saggy boobs

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