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A comparison of two very different European privacy cultures

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I recently moved from Stockholm, Sweden to Berlin, Germany. It is quite illustrative to see how different these privacy cultures are, and in particular, the expectations from authorities on both sides on an expat that tries to bridge these cultures. The result is often rude, unthinkable, and downright illegal in at least one location.

In Sweden, you’re assigned a number at birth. This number is not just more important than your name when dealing with all authorities, it is your name when dealing with any and all authorities. Think of it as a social security number that extends to driving licenses, healthcare, taxes, housing, unemployment benefits, passports, voting, and anything and everything. Furthermore, this number is public. And since it is public governmental data, anybody may call any agency of any branch in the government, and ask any employee about anybody’s ID number, and they are required by law to provide it without being allowed to demand anything else first, like the name of the caller.

My Swedish personal ID number is 720121–4819. My year, month, and date of birth, followed by a serial number assigned to babies born that day (481), followed by a Luhn checksum digit (9). I was tagged with this number literally the moment I was born. It was on a plastic heavy band around my ankle at the maternity ward, attached immediately, not entirely unlike a shackle intended to be carried for the duration of the baby’s life.

Seeing how people are not their names in Sweden, but this number, a lot of businesses use it to refer to their clients as well. You can’t use a bank as your name in Sweden, for example; only as your number. You log on to the bank using this personal ID number, not with your name. Yes,

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