Minister allows access to private data

Two politicians have allowed for their personal data to be mapped down to the last detail. This is unprecedented. The Speaker of the Danish parliament calls it »overdue«.

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For the first time ever, Danes are to be given a closer look at the considerable amounts of data being recorded on individual citizens, and a better understanding of what information can be mined from the personal data of private individuals.

While the government itself has been reluctant to discuss the issue of surveillance, two members of parliament from the ruling Social Democrat and Social Liberal parties have brought themselves into play to start a debate about the registration and logging of data. One of these politicians is even a cabinet member.

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Sofie Carsten Nielsen, the Social Liberal minister for education and research, and Jens Joel, a Social Democrat member of parliament, have allowed Berlingske to access their private data. The newspaper's investigative unit has spent several months accessing, analysing and mapping the politicians' emails, phone calls, mobile texts, card payments, plane trips, tax information and private photos. Their patterns and habits, both political and intimate, are now presented on

This is despite government efforts, for more than the past six months, to silence the debate on surveillance following the publication of documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden which revealed the extent of phone tapping and data collection carried out by the U.S. The government has consistently repeated the same statement: that it is not aware of any illegal surveillance in Denmark.

Now, however, the Speaker of Parliament, Mogens Lykketoft, who is also a Social Democrat, has stepped forward, calling it »an interesting experiment« that Sofie Carsten Nielsen and Jens Joel have allowed their data to be mined.

»This could influence the debate about our data, but I am assuming that this is also their reasoning behind participating, to illustrate the serious amount of data on people that exists. I do understand the experiment, and I am going to follow it with great interest. It is an overdue debate. But that is all I have to say right now,« Mogens Lykketoft says.

Berlingske's investigation is based on the analysis of some 18,047 emails, 31,303 pieces of telecommunications data and 2,407 banking records. Added to these are approximately 36,000 texts and data messages, and a string of other sets of data, including 2,828 invitations in Jens Joel's electronic diary and 33,740 location points from the running app on Sofie Carsten Nielsen's mobile phone.

Jesper Lund, vice president of IT-Politisk Forening, an association fighting for stronger citizens' rights with regards to the internet, hopes that the investigation will bring more attention to the issue of logging and registration of data.

»These two members of parliament really do have something to lose. I am surprised that Berlingske has been given access to this data, as politicians have generally not been keen to talk about surveillance. The parties in government least of all,« says Jesper Lund, adding that he does not know of any other project of this scale.

Troels Møller from the Bitbureauet, a think tank on internet policy, also says that he has never heard of a project of this type. Troels Møller believes that it may be difficult for Danes to grasp the amount of data being registered. He hopes that the investigation will open people's eyes to the extent of surveillance.

Lars Ramkilde Knudsen, professor of cryptography and IT security at the DTU Technical University of Denmark, thinks that Sofie Carsten Nielsen and Jens Joel are brave in allowing this level of access, as data can be very »powerful«.

»Some would say that what the NSA is capable of doing, you are doing it now. That could be really dangerous for them, not least in relation to their political opponents. If this helps to illustrate how dangerous data can be, then maybe the Danes will open their eyes to see how important it is to protect their data,« Lars Ramkilde Knudsen says.

In 2009 the German politician Malte Spitz asked the telecom operator Deutsche Telekom to hand over six months of telecommunication data which the Zeit Online newspaper then used to map his physical activities in minute detail.

Malte Spitz believes that Berlingske's project will make the debate on data more realistic by showing »concrete examples«.

»This will serve as an eye opener showing people what is already possible. We need to start the debate about the future right now,« says Malte Spitz.