The organisers of the conservative coronavirus “appeal” leaked thousands of personal email addresses, locations and messages, it has been found.
– Up to 34,000 people affected
German Bishops’ news website katholisch.de reported May 12 that due to what it generously described as a “technical error”, the promoters of the “appeal” signed by Cardinals Gerhard Müller and Joseph Zen, among others, failed to properly protect the personal data of signatories to the petition.
As of this Tuesday, the organisers of the “appeal” are still encouraging people to sign the petition through an online form in which the first name, last name, location, country and email fields are all mandatory, with signatories also having the option to send their institutional affiliation and a personal message.
But not only is the “appeal” website not protected by the secure sockets layer protocol, but over the course of nearly six days, the personal data of signatories – including names, locations, emails and messages to organisers – was publicly accessible on the website in JSON format.
The only privacy notice included on the appeal homepage states that “the personal data collected at the time of joining are not transferred to third parties, but are used for the sole purpose of informing subscribers”.
Petitioners can request to have their personal data deleted with an email to organisers, who have delegated data processing to German petition plugin firm Civist.
The website states that the appeal is an initiative Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former nuncio to the US who became a conservative hero in 2018 after accusing Pope Francis, without any proof, of having covered up the sexual abuse crimes of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
According to figures provided on the website, over 34,000 people had signed the petition as of this Tuesday.
After having been informed by katholisch.de of the data breach, organisers took down the table of signatories that had early been featured prominently on the page and replaced it with a notice saying that “in order to guarantee the privacy of signatories and the protection of data, the complete listing is not available anymore”.
– More criticism from another German bishop and the International Auschwitz Committee
In the meantime, the criticism of Viganò, Müller, Zen and their co-conspiracy theorists has been continuing, after the group faced backlash from numerous German bishops and prominent Church groups and personalities.
Bishop-elect of Augsburg Bertram Meier on Tuesday became the latest German prelate to hit out at the conspiracy theory promoters, accusing them of cynicism.
“In a free society, everyone must be allowed to express their opinion freely, but in our diocese we have lost a priest to corona”, the bishop-elect told the Augsburger Allgemeine, adding that “I am thinking especially of the many people who have died in various old people’s homes in our region… after a COVID-19 infection”.
“To speak of a ‘world conspiracy’ here is downright cynical”, insisted Meier, stressing that “as far as our diocese is concerned, we will continue to work closely with government agencies in the corona pandemic, because only together can we defeat this virus”.
The International Auschwitz Committee had also earlier criticised the appeal, warning that if now, in view of the pandemic, even bishops of the Catholic Church were drawing close to the right-wing extremist and anti-democratic conspiracy hysteria spreading throughout Europe, that would be a fatal signal for the democratic cohesion of societies on the continent.