Watching the Watchmen

News Brief: Nov. 2010

Vice Chancellor Josef Pröll (ÖVP) was awarded the 2010 satirical “Big Brother Award” in the category “politics,” for his transparent database that collects information of every Austrian citizen’s income, social insurance number, tax records and the like. Every payment by an Austrian citizen to the state has been accessible since the law has come into effect Oct. 19.

The Big-Brother-Awards ceremony took place Oct. 25, at the Rabenhof Theater in the third district, with a jury of academics, lawyers and journalists, who awarded the prizes in five categories to those who “have done the most to threaten personal privacy.”The Viennese Public Prosecutor’s Office was awarded with the prize for “authorities,” because of two journalists for the Austrian magazine profil who are still being interrogated because they quoted from a case record of an ongoing trial, an action which is legal in Austria.

Other awardees were T-Mobile Austria for charging their customers with text messages they received from premium-rate numbers, and Minister of Justice Claudia Bandion-Ortner (ÖVP) for putting four students in custody because they set a trash can on fire. Gudrun Höfner, head of the company ITworks, was given an award for collecting private data from unemployed people. The awards are named after the surveillance technology “Big Brother” in the George Orwell novel 1984, based on Stalinist Russia. The first awards were held in the U.K. in 1998, with Austria following a year later.

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