Messages

„Our news team is independent and does not receive funding from advertising. We report on a daily basis on digital topics, internet politics, sustainability and consumer protection issues.“

Data of 3.3 million VW customers stolen

Created at 17. June 2021, 16:50 | Category: News

A VW vendor has exposed highly sensitive data of more than three million North American VW customers. Among them are social security and telephone numbers.

VW
After the diesel emissions scandal in 2015, Volkswagen already had a hard time in North America. Confidence in the company is likely to suffer further as a result of the current data leak. (Source: Volkswagen)

The personal data of several million Volkswagen customers from the USA and Canada have fallen into unauthorised hands. Due to a security breach at an as of yet unnamed business partner, sensitive information of more than 3.3 million people was freely accessible on the internet for more than a year. According to a company spokesperson on Friday, customers and potential buyers of the Audi subsidiary were particularly affected.

Previously, the US blog Techcrunch had already reported on the data leak and published a letter addressed to customers as well as a corresponding legal letter dated June 10 to the state attorney general’s. The letter states that an investigation conducted at the end of May had already determined that “a third party” had access to the data.

Vehicle registration and account numbers

According to the report, the data contained information from the years 2014 to 2019 and was exposed online from August 2019 to May 2021. The majority of the data is contact information that was collected for sales and marketing. This part of the data leak includes names, email addresses, telephone numbers and in some cases vehicle registration numbers of around 3.1 million Audi customers in the US and 163,000 in Canada, as well as 3,300 US customers of VW.

In addition, sensitive data of about 90,000 Audi customers had also been unprotected. In 95 percent of these cases, driving licence numbers and US social security and account numbers were involved.

As of June 11, affected customers were informed about the incident by letter. In the letter, the company warns against suspicious emails and calls (also known as phishing) asking for further personal information or data about the vehicle.

Data source unknown

VW has called in judicial authorities and commissioned external data analysis and IT security experts to investigate. According to a VW spokesperson, legal letters to public prosecutors are a step that companies in the USA are obliged to take in the case of such customer data leaks. There are no indications of investigations by the judicial authorities as of yet.

For the time being, Volkswagen has not provided any information on who the business partner was with whom the data breach occurred. When asked by Techcrunch, VW also did not want to comment on possible consequences for the company.

For years, VW has had a difficult time in North America because of the “Dieselgate” scandal uncovered by US environmental authorities in September 2015. The mass manipulation of emissions data has severely tarnished the company’s image and caused sales figures in the USA to plummet temporarily. (dpa / hcz)

Nigeria blocks mobile access to Twitter

Created at 09. June 2021, 16:59 | Category: News

Last weekend, the Nigerian government had mobile access to Twitter blocked. Previously, Twitter had temporarily suspended the president’s account.

Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari has described the ban as “temporary”, however, it is unclear when it will be lifted. (Source: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS)

#more#

Since Saturday, access to Twitter via mobile internet has been largely blocked in Nigeria. The Association of Telecommunication Companies in Nigeria announced that a government directive had been implemented. It is unclear how long the ban will be upheld.

The government of Africa’s largest democracy with more than 200 million inhabitants had surprisingly announced the ban on Friday evening without giving a concrete reason. The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture justified it by saying that the platform was repeatedly used for activities capable of “undermining Nigeria’s existence”.

The NetBlocks organisation had confirmed the ban on Saturday. Access to Twitter was restricted for costumers of leading wireless service providers MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9mobile. Some, but not all, internet users in the country were affected. Most people in Nigeria only use the internet via mobile phones.

Twitter had deleted presidential tweet

Last Wednesday, Twitter deleted a controversial tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari about the Nigerian civil war and suspended his account for twelve hours. This decision was “disappointing”, according to a press release published on the president’s Facebook page on Saturday. However, this was not the only reason for the nationwide ban. Apparently, Twitter was used to spread misinformation and “fake news”, some of which had violent consequences in Nigeria, without the platform being held accountable. The announcement described the block as “temporary”, but it did not give a date for a possible end. The government has also ordered radio and television stations to stop using Twitter.

Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami threatened Nigerian citizens who try to circumvent the Twitter block with immediate prosecution.

Despite the possible consequences, many Nigerians accessed Twitter via VPN connections and voiced their displeasure. “I am tweeting from Nigeria, come and arrest me,” wrote human rights activist Deji Adeyanju. He said he was ready to go to jail for it.

International criticism

The government’s actions provoked strong criticism: the Nigerian Bar Association announced legal action would be taken should the ban remain in place.

The European Union, the USA, Canada and Great Britain expressed their disappointment in a joint statement on Saturday. Blocking platforms of free expression is not the answer.

Amnesty International called on the government to reverse the decision immediately. Twitter is used by many Nigerians to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

Anietie Ewang of Human Rights Watch posted on Twitter that the “repressive action” was “a clear attempt to censor dissent”.

Restriction of freedom of expression

The civil rights organisation Access Now criticised the government’s action as a violation of regional and international human rights. Bridget Andere of Access Now called the ban a “direct affront to freedom of expression and the right to access information”.

Twitter itself said it was “very concerned” about the block in Nigeria. Access to a free and open internet is an essential right in a modern society. Efforts will be made to restore access for all those in Nigeria who communicate with the rest of the world via Twitter.

Last year, young Nigerians had repeatedly used the platform to organise protests against police violence. A member of the Nigerian government accused Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey of funding the protesters after he expressed sympathy for them. (dpa / js)

Denmark spied on leading European politicians for the NSA

Created at 04. June 2021, 16:14 | Category: News

The NSA affair is still going on after eight years: Denmark is said to have eavesdropped on allies on behalf of the USA. German politicians were also eavesdropped on.

Dänemark
According to Edward Snowden, it had been apparent since 2013 that Denmark was helping the US intercept communications. (Source: IMAGO / agefotostock)

#more#

The issue at hand is whether Denmark helped the US intelligence agency NSA to wiretap top German, Swedish, Norwegian and French politicians such as Angela Merkel. Berlin and Paris are now demanding that the government in Copenhagen provide a comprehensive explanation of the current reports on covert operations.

A research network comprised of the Danish radio station DR as well as NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung had reported on Sunday evening, citing anonymous sources (in German), that the NSA had deliberately eavesdropped on leading European politicians such as Merkel with the help of Denmark. This information is based on an internal analysis of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE)) about their activities in 2012 and 2014.

The FE had given the NSA access to data from submarine cables running off the Danish coast. According to the report, those eavesdropped on included not only the German Chancellor, but also the former Foreign Minister and current Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former SPD candidate for Chancellor Peer Steinbrück, and top politicians from Sweden, Norway and France.

“I would like to say that this is not acceptable between allies. This is quite clear,” emphasized French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday after consultations of the Franco-German Council of Ministers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could “only agree”. Steinbrück spoke of a “scandal”, according to the newspaper taz. He had called on the Chancellor in 2013 to demand an immediate end to total surveillance vis-à-vis the USA.

Politicians from Sweden and Norway also expressed their anger at the allies’ actions. Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, assessed the behaviour of NATO partners Denmark and the USA as a “serious breach of trust”.

Previously, the Danish government had distanced itself from wiretapping. Denmark’s Defence Minister Trine Bramsen said that the current government shares the view expressed by former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen in 2013 and 2014: "Systematic wiretapping of close allies is unacceptable.”

Chancellor reassured

Macron stressed that they expect “complete transparency and clarification of the facts from our Danish and American partners”. Merkel said that nothing had changed in regard to the German government’s position on the NSA incidents. “What was right then is still right today.” With this, the Chancellor was obviously alluding to her statement made when the NSA affair came to light a few years ago. At that time she had said: “Spying among friends – that is simply not done.” The Chancellor now emphasised that she was “reassured” that the Danish government had also made it very clear what it thought of such matters.

The Danish Defence Minister Bramsen said that she would not comment on speculations about possible intelligence matters. The Danish Defence Intelligence Service also declined to comment on the reports when asked. In Berlin, government spokesperson Seibert said that the Federal Government had taken note of the reports and “is in contact with all relevant national and international agencies to clarify the matter.” The Chancellor was only made aware of the issue through the enquiry of investigating journalists.

Operation Dunhammer

Nine sources have independently confirmed to the DR that the interception took place with the help of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service FE. Apparently, the NSA accessed the phones of individuals affected through a surveillance programme operated by the FE.

Within the FE, an investigation called “Operation Dunhammer” was conducted into the US spying on submarine cables that end in Denmark. In a secret report conducted in 2015, a team of workers came to the conclusion that the NSA had purposefully collected data from Norwegian, Swedish, German and French politicians through Danish-American collaboration. According to research by Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR, the Danes did not inform their German partners of their findings.

Snowden comments

In 2013, the whistleblower Edward Snowden (in German) revealed the massive and worldwide surveillance conducted by the NSA. He reacted to the revelations on Sunday with a sarcastic tweet: “If only there had been a reason to investigate years ago. Oh, why didn’t anyone warn us?”

With this message he alludes to the fact that the collaboration between the NSA and Danish FE was already evident from the documents leaked in 2013. The information published by Snowden revealed that Denmark was one of the 33 countries that helped the NSA to intercept electronic communications worldwide under the code name RAMPART-A. (dpa / hcz)

Judgement: Mass surveillance violates human rights

Created at 28. May 2021, 15:18 | Category: News

The communications surveillance by the British secret service, which became widely known through the Snowden Revelations, was illegal. This has now been decided by the European Court of Human Rights.

GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershir
In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the surveillance programmes of the NSA and GCHQ. (Source: GCHQ/Crown Copyright/MOD)

#more#

The British secret service GCHQ has violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) with its warrantless mass surveillance. This was decided by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on Tuesday. Several non-governmental organisations filed complaints between 2013 and 2015 after it became known that the secret service was tapping communications data on a massive scale.

The judges found that the surveillance violated the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8 ECHR). This was because the underlying surveillance law lacked sufficient safeguards to limit the intrusion into the private lives of citizens to the extent “necessary in a democratic society”.

The right to freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR) was also violated, as no protection was provided for journalists and their sources. The court called the protection of sources a cornerstone of freedom of press. Undermining this protection affects the press’ ability to serve as a public check and balance as well as its ability to provide reliable information.

However, the court did not declare mass surveillance inadmissible in general. The judges laid down new safeguards requiring states to review the necessity and proportionality at each point in the surveillance process. For example, an independent body must be the one to authorise mass surveillance and there must be independent scrutiny after the fact. The categories of search terms used to screen communications must also be approved.

The court’s decision refers to the legal situation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, which has since been replaced. In 2018, the first section of the court had already handed down a similar ruling (in German), finding a violation of Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR. The Grand Chamber has now confirmed this judgement and defined additional safeguards.

NGOs had filed lawsuits

Between 2013 and 2015, a total of 16 non-governmental organisations and individuals had filed lawsuits against mass surveillance by the British intelligence service – including Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, Amnesty International, Privacy International and the spokesperson of the Chaos Computer Club, Constanze Kurz. The ECtHR had consolidated the lawsuits.

The lawsuits were triggered by Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 about the surveillance programmes of the NSA and GCHQ. Among other things, the British intelligence operation “Tempora” was revealed, wherein the GCHQ tapped submarine cables and intercepted communications conducted via these cables.

Judgement binding throughout Europe

The ECHR, based in Strasbourg, France, is an institution of the Council of Europe and not a body of the European Union. The court is responsible for ensuring compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgements of the ECtHR are binding for the states that have signed the European Convention on Human Rights. Privacy International therefore expects the ruling to have an impact not only on the UK, but also on Europe: It is expected that all 47 member states of the Council of Europe will now review their surveillance laws and bring them into line with the court’s ruling.

Constanze Kurz also wrote (in German) that the protective measures stipulated by the court “will have to give all states that conduct mass surveillance food for thought – including Germany. The BND Act must therefore also be scrutinised.” Furthermore: “In Europe, we now have the unquestionable finding by the Human Rights Court that the previously secret British operations of mass tapping of communications data has been illegal for many years, according to basic human rights.”

Intelligence services held accountable

Ilia Siatitsa, Legal Director of Privacy International, said: “Today the Court reiterated that intelligence agencies cannot act on their own, in secret and in the absence of authorisation and supervision by independent authorities. They must be accountable because their capabilities to access personal data about each and every one of us – even if we’re not suspected of any wrongdoing – pose serious risks in a democratic society. The judgment offers some pieces of the puzzle for stronger protections in the future, but it is not the end.”

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Mass surveillance damages democracies under the cloak of defending them.” She added, however, that the Court had failed to impose clearer restrictions and safeguards.

A government spokesperson told the British newspaper The Guardian that they have taken note of the ruling and that the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 had already replaced large parts of the rules made at that time. The ruling refers to the version of the law created in 2000. (js)

Greenpeace: Illegal plastic waste exports endanger the environment

Created at 20. May 2021, 17:36 | Category: News

According to Greenpeace, waste from European countries ends up in illegal dumping grounds in Turkey. There, the waste is partially incinerated and poses a danger to people and the environment.

Illegal dumping grounds in Adana
Greenpeace already visited illegal dumping grounds in Turkey last year. Since then, the problem has gotten worse. (Source: Caner Ozkan / Greenpeace)

#more#

Recent research by the environmental organization Greenpeace shows that difficult to recycle or non-recyclable plastic waste from Europe is being illegally exported to Turkey. The organisation has visited ten illegal dumping grounds in the Adana region in southern Turkey. The waste dumped there is said to come mainly from the UK, but also from Germany, Poland and other EU countries.

In the Adana region, Greenpeace activists found plastic waste illegally dumped on roadsides, fields and near rivers. Much of the found waste had previously been shredded and transported in large bags, which Greenpeace also found in front of recycling plants in Adana. Often, the waste was on fire or had already been burnt.

The smoke and dust produced by the incineration process contains substances that are harmful to the health of a person and in some cases carcinogenic. This not only endangers people in the region, but also plants and animals. In addition, the waste pollutes bodies of water, thereby endangering entire ecosystems.

Problem has gotten worse

Greenpeace reported on illegal dumping grounds in Adana (in German) containing non-recyclable materials as early as November 2020. Among these materials was extruded plastic waste that had apparently been sorted out in a German recycling plant. Since then, the situation has “significantly worsened” and the dumps have increased in size.

Turkey has had an import ban on mixed and “mechanically sorted” plastics since January 2021. So far, this has had little effect: the majority of waste found originates in Great Britain. In addition, almost all of the dumping grounds also contain waste from Germany.

Waste from the UK
Greenpeace has found waste from the UK in the dumping grounds. (Source: Caner Ozkan / Greenpeace)

“It is appalling to see our plastic in burning piles on the side of Turkish roads. We must stop dumping our plastic waste on other countries,” said Manfred Santen, Chemist at Greenpeace Germany.

A reform of the Basel Convention (in German) has actually been restricting trade in plastic waste since January 2021. Since it came into force, the export of non-recyclable waste has violated EU and German law. So far, however, it has been shown “that partial export bans do not get to the root of the plastic problem, but only shift it to other countries”.

Germany exports one million tonnes of plastic waste

Since China imposed an import ban on plastic waste in 2018, most waste is now exported to Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey. Turkey alone imported a total of 13.7 million tonnes of European waste in 2020. According to Greenpeace, this waste mainly comes from Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia and Spain. Germany’s plastic waste exports to Turkey alone increased sevenfold between 2016 and 2020, reaching 136,000 tonnes in 2020. In total, Germany exported around one million tonnes of plastic waste to other countries last year. This is permissible if the plastic waste is recycled in the exporting country. However, Greenpeace also found a considerable amount of non-recyclable material in dumps in Turkey.

At the beginning of May, Wirtschaftswoche (Economic Weekly) reported (in German) that a Turkish recycling company had imported more than 400 containers of German plastic waste from the “yellow bag”, but had not recycled it so far. The company’s certificate for recycling household waste was revoked and authorities could now send at least 140 containers back to Germany. According to Wirtschaftswoche (Economic Weekly), 108 of these containers belong to the Berlin waste management company Alba. Greenpeace is accusing the Berlin-based company, as well as other German recyclers such as Meilo or Lobbe, of being “involved in dubious deals with now bankrupt export companies”. Apparently, the organisation has corresponding information from the recycling industry. “A large part of this waste cannot be recycled, and exporting it violates prevailing German and European law,” criticises Greenpeace expert Santen (in German).

Greenpeace demands that the Federal Government prevent the export of non-recyclable waste. The judiciary must also act: those who knowingly deliver plastic waste to unlicensed dumping grounds must be prepared to face “effective penalties”. In addition, the “enormous amount of plastic” must be reduced, namely without single-use plastics and with reusable concepts. Greenpeace is therefore also calling for a global agreement to stem the tide of plastic. (js)