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German Data Privacy Laws: Why They’re So Uncompromising

Simon Coulthard October 15, 2023

7 Minute Read

German data privacy laws are as tight as they come.

At TWIPLA, we usually approach privacy requirements from a regional perspective. We’ve written a lot about the European Union privacy framework. This is made up of GDPR and ePrivacy, and it provides EU citizens with the highest level of data protection in the world.

However, this protection probably wouldn’t exist without Germany. And within the EU, no other country cares more about data protection than the land of beer and sausages. Our CEOs here at TWIPLA are also German. They're data privacy advocates and their nationality is no coincidence. Neither is the location of our data servers; these are mostly in Falkenstein, but all are in Germany.

Sure, they could have picked other locations. We’re based between Germany and Romania. The UK too if you include this writer. But Germany is the perfect place for a software startup that puts privacy first.

The reason for this is historical.

And while we pride ourselves on being a cutting-edge analytics provider that focuses on the future, it’s crucial not to overlook history. There's a Japanese proverb that says we were given two eyes for a reason - one to envision the future, and the other to reflect on the past.

So let’s reflect on this and learn why German data privacy laws are so strict.

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Germany before Privacy Regulations

Two famous political systems, the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic, rose and fell in Germany during the last century. Both used mass surveillance to control the German population during what was a fairly turbulent time for the country by anyone’s estimation.

The Third Reich

Hitler was leader of Germany from 1933 through to the end of the Second World War. During this time, the government hunted down minority groups using private information. Through nationalization, the government accessed business records. Census workers went door to door, collecting information on ethnicity, language, nationality, religion, and so forth. The government then used this data against the people in the worst ways imaginable.

The German Democratic Republic

After the Second World War, external powers divided Germany into two. The eastern part became the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1989. And during this time, the East German secret police scaled up the surveillance practices of the Nazis enormously. The Stasi maintained files - personal data before personal data was a thing digitally - on 5.6 million people.

This government department was massive with 90,000 employees, and 170,000 unofficial workers supported them. But it didn't stop there. Experts estimate that one in six Germans collaborated with the Stasi. This collaboration allowed the secret police to infiltrate society to such an extent that the internet seems safe in comparison.

The Stasi infiltrated personal life so as to collect intimate information about people who they considered a threat. And they considered everyone a threat. They bugged homes and wiretapped phones. Workers steamed open letters, recorded the contents, and then resealed them. They recorded the identity of house guests.

They were probably the most terrifying secret police in history, and it doesn’t bear thinking about what they would have been able to do had modern technologies - and the huge amount of online personal data - been available to them.

And for people living in (East) Germany from 1933 through to the end of the Cold War, this meant that privacy was paramount. They knew that any deviance from national, “patriotic” expectations could be severely punished. So Germans became very secretive in their daily lives. No one could be trusted; it's safe to say that Twitter wouldn't have been popular, and that Grindr's violations of data rights would have been the least of user worries.

Germany and Privacy: Influence of History

Between them, the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic were in power for around forty years. And while it certainly feels like Angela Merkel was around for longer, these two systems had a profound effect on the German and EU data privacy laws that exist today.

The German Data Privacy Mindset

Such horrifying recent history has deeply scarred German public consciousness. Today, surveys show that the issues of privacy, data protection, and data security provoke far stronger reactions from German citizens than in other countries as far flung as India, China, Britain, and the US. They were also concerned about online data privacy long before it became a common watercooler talking point roughly halfway through the last decade.

If you’ve spent any time with Germans, you may have noticed. Most will use pseudonyms for social media profiles, making them undiscoverable on sites like Facebook that others use for the very purpose of finding long-lost friends.

Germans are much more aware of how targeted advertising works. They also manage passwords better to protect themselves from leaks, breaches, and other data threats.

They’re also fairly disgusted by the amount of access that governments like the US have to the personal data of citizens. True, Germany did introduce anti-terror data mining powers in 2015, but this was soon deemed unconstitutional in federal court.

They put their money where their mouth is. Research shows that Germans are prepared to spend more money on data security, most notably for medical data ($189 compared to a meager $59 in the UK).

Culture matters. If a commercial flight crashed on a remote island, the Japanese passengers would build the infrastructure everyone needed to survive. The French would hopefully do the cooking. The Spanish would get people chatting. And if they’re still there a year later, the English would still be waiting to be introduced.

Lazy stereotypes aside, culture really does matter when it comes to data privacy, and understanding Germany’s relationship with this issue is vital for making any business a success in Germany.

Birth of Modern German Data Privacy Laws

Imagine being a West German during the Cold War. Thousands of their fellow citizens worked as informers for the Stasi, spying on friends and coworkers. The secret police also infiltrated the West German government, military, and intelligence forces successfully.

In response to this over-the-garden-fence intrusion from their neighbor, West Germany introduced a series of information laws. Many consider these laws the country's first data privacy regulations. The 1977 Federal Data Protection Act aimed to protect West Germans from abuse related to their data storage, transmission, modification, and deletion.

After unification, these rights expanded to include East Germans. The influence of them remains evident today, forming the foundation of the current national privacy framework in Germany. This framework encompasses the BDSP, the German Privacy Act that incorporated GDPR into national law, as well as TDDDG and many other regulations that we've discussed elsewhere.

Impact of German Data Privacy Laws Globally

Over the last 25 years or so, it does feel like most privacy regulations have bubbled out from Germany. It fits nicely with the “fearful German” mindset, and is a big reason why we think that Germans care more about data protection than others.

Sure, South Koreans probably lead the way globally for data privacy awareness. Iceland is the Switzerland of data protection, and Norway is doing a better job at holding tech companies to task than most. But there's also something remarkable about the German approach.


In fact, the very strictness of GDPR - and the huge fines it introduced for non-compliance with user data rights - is a direct result of the German mindset. It stems from Germany's history, and the way that personal data was used to manipulate, oppress, and harm the German people during the 20th Century.

And if we had to identify a specific catalyst, we'd look at the Third Reich's misuse of census data in the 1930s. Germans remembered. This resentment culminated in a landmark constitutional court case in 1983, establishing the control of personal data as a basic right for citizens.

These rights over personal data were then integrated into the 1995 data protection law that arrived two years after the creation of the Single Market, the forefathers of GDPR and the EU respectively. And as such, this idea has been a guiding principle for the EU ever since, and can be seen across the wider EU data privacy framework that exists today.

Global Copycatting

Moreover, many global data privacy laws have used GDPR as a model.

Brazil's LGPD closely resembles GDPR in scope and applicability. The Nigerian NDPR also shares many of its terms and ideas. We see similar parallels in legislation from Switzerland to Thailand, Turkey to California, and India to Egypt. Although these laws aren't exactly the same, complying with GDPR typically ensures compliance with the rest of them.

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Join the Fight for Global Data Privacy Rights

So, it's clear why many believe that without Germany, we might not have the global data privacy laws that exist today. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple might not be facing scrutiny for their data misuse. NYOB would probably not exist either. Schrems II might never have happened. And even if the battle is far from won, internet users would not have the protections they do today.

We probably wouldn’t have TWIPLA either - a great choice for website optimization. Our owners are German, and their work to create a website analytics solution that gives businesses the data they need while keeping website visitors safe might still be a pipe dream.

In simple terms, prioritizing data security is a social responsibility. For website owners aiming to ethically analyze site performance or conduct business in Germany, data security is crucial. So, sign up to TWIPLA and gain essential website insights without compromising your customers' safety.

FAQs: Germany and Privacy

Why is Privacy Important in Germany?

Privacy is highly important in Germany due to a strong cultural emphasis on individual rights and personal autonomy. The historical context, including experiences with surveillance during the Nazi regime and East Germany's Stasi era, has made Germans particularly sensitive to the need for privacy protection. Furthermore, privacy is enshrined in Germany's Basic Law (Grundgesetz), emphasizing the fundamental right to privacy.

What is German Data Privacy Policy?

The German Data Privacy Policy, commonly referred to as Datenschutz in German, is a comprehensive legal framework that governs the handling of personal data. It includes regulations and guidelines aimed at safeguarding individuals' privacy rights, outlining how organizations must collect, process, and store personal information. The policy is characterized by stringent requirements and imposes obligations on both public and private entities to ensure data protection.

Do Germans Respect Privacy?

Germans generally hold a strong respect for privacy. They value their personal space and expect a high level of confidentiality in various aspects of life, including communication, business transactions, and personal data handling. This cultural respect for privacy extends to their attitudes toward data privacy and protection.

Does GDPR Apply to Germany?

Yes, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to Germany. GDPR is a European Union (EU) regulation that sets stringent data protection standards, and it is directly enforceable in all EU member states, including Germany. Germany has also enacted specific national legislation to complement and reinforce GDPR requirements.

Why is Data Privacy Protection Important?

Data privacy protection is crucial for several reasons. It safeguards individuals' personal information, preventing unauthorized access, misuse, or exploitation. It helps build trust between organizations and their customers, as people are more likely to share information when they trust that it will be handled responsibly. Moreover, data privacy protection is essential for maintaining the integrity of democratic societies, preventing identity theft, and mitigating the risk of cyberattacks and data breaches, which can have far-reaching consequences for individuals and organizations alike.

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