With the sun scorching down on the picturesque riverside setting and most of the Berlin tech scene seemingly hanging out by the water, many with a cheekily early beer in hand, it felt slightly out of place to be tackling an issue as controversial, divisive and far-reaching as self-expression vs privacy.
But Tech Open Air is about bringing opposites together; doing things Berlin-style. The panel discussion, moderated by Alex Goerlach of The European, was in part looking at the fallout from the Prism scandal, and featured Bernd Schlömer, leader of the Pirate Party in Germany, and Malte Spitz, a member of the national executive board of the Green Party.
And they had plenty to say about the revelations of electronic data access on the part of Western countries, including the US, the UK and Germany – no surprise with a national election fast approaching.
Schlömer called for tighter controls over those responsible for collecting information, and when pressed on whether he believed security agencies should be able to do so, he said: “They are difficult opinions. We must talk about the future of MIDs, military intelligence services, [and] I think we could say that we don’t need them. But I think we need the Bundesnachrichtendienst [the BND, Germany’s civilian foreign intelligence service], we need the Verfassungsschutzbehörde [aka the BfV, the domestic equivalent], but we need a [much] better practice to control these intelligence services, maybe [concerning] special agents, maybe [concerning] better control through parliament. I don’t know. It is a long discussion. The Pirate Party will [put forward] solutions.”
Spitz, meanwhile, agreed that something needs to be done: “I think that the debate at the moment is very important because I think that society has to define what type of surveillance we [will accept], and where the red line is [that] we shouldn’t cross any more. And I think over the last years many red lines have been crossed.”
Protection versus privacy – it’s a debate that will rage on, especially as it is set to become a key issue at the polls in September. But most of the hundreds of people who flocked to Kater Holzig for the Unconference, the first day of TOA, were content to soak up the sunshine, check out the traditional panels discussions and talks and enjoy the music, yoga, art, ask-me-anythings and performances which give the festival its unique flavour.
Tomorrow will see a program of dozens of satellite events spread out across Berlin; you can find more information here.