Focus: Access to Information

Access to documents and internal security
by Norbert Pütter
Access of citizens to information about the state and to data, which the state collects, is an old demand of the civil liberties movement. Today, freedom of information acts exist in eleven German Länder, and at the federal level since 2006. However, security authorities are well shielded by exemption clauses, secret services do not fall under the scope of the acts and they are almost immune against access rights and parliamentary oversight. Hence, the fortification of the security apparatus against information requests is rather unaffected despite of few success stories.

Accessing personal data? A fundamental right in practice
by the Data Protection Group of the Red Aid Heidelberg
For many years the Data Protection Group of the Red Aid Heidelberg is supporting people who exercise their right to access towards security authorities. Thus, the group has an extensive experience with the manifold problems of practical and legal nature faced by persons who seek access to their data: These are among others obligations to justify requests, administrative demands for certified copied of ID cards and the deletion of data before the legality of their processing can be checked.

An odyssey through the databases of the political police
by Harun Spies
It took 26 months of persistent struggle until the data of an activist, who was registered by the political police in the context of protests against surveillance and EU migration policy, were deleted from the databases of the Federal Criminal Police Office. However, the activist’s data are still elusive in the Kafkaesque labyrinth of new security cooperation after being transferred to the German intelligence agencies and 15 other European countries via “counter-terrorism” networks.

A short tutorial on access right and domestic intelligence
Interview with Angela Furmaniak and Udo Kauß
If someone is targeted as “extremist” by the domestic intelligence is hard to know. This is because of the difficulties to exercise the right to access. Even if persons are successful they often only scratch at the surface as many information is blackened or blocked. Despite these challenges, data access requests make the domestic intelligence accountable to courts, data protection authorities and data subjects – at least a bit.

The parliament’s right to question
by Albrecht Maurer and Matthias Monroy
The parliament’s right to information and question is based on article 38 of the Basic Law and the democratic principle enshrined in article 20. Details are regulated by the rules of procedure of the German Bundestag. Legislative oversight of the executive branch of government by requests of the parliamentary parties and questions by individual MPs is limited when the federal government is worried about “state welfare” or the “core of executive responsibility”. The limits of the government’s obligation to answer questions are therefore contested in court time after time.

Personal information in police databases
by Matthias Monroy and Christian Schröder
A series of parliamentary questions in the Bundestag and state parliaments find out a lot about the use of doubtful categories of personal information in police databases. Now the Conference of the Ministers of the Interior is discussion about modifications.

Beyond the focus

Real extent of deadly right-wing violence officially denied
by Heike Kleffner
The federal government still does only recognise on third of the more than 150 casualties, counted by civil society organisations, as victims of deadly racist violence. No improvement is to be expected by the examination of 745 “old cases” which was ordered by the Conference of the Interior Ministers in 2012. Interim results show that the real extent of right-wing attacks will be denied also in the future.

The story of the Thuringian informant Kai-Uwe Trinkaus
by Paul Wellsow
From 2012 to 2014 an inquiry committee investigated the activities of Kai-Uwe Trinkaus, a former Neo-Nazi functionary and informant of the domestic intelligence in Thuringia. The committee shed light on the complicity of the intelligence agency while Trinkaus defamed and infiltrated other organisations, established Neo-Nazi structures and knew about planned right-wing violence. It became clear that a red line was crossed by contracting Trinkaus as informant, internal rules were severely violated by his liaison officer and oversight of the agency failed.

Lower Saxony aims to revise the state police act
by Michael Schütte
In September 2014 a proposal for a revised state police act was presented in Lower Saxony. The police shall not protect “public order” any longer, judicial oversight of covert police actions shall be improved and stop and search powers limited. But the bill fails to fulfil the vision of a “citizens’ police” in other areas: New standards aim to regulate registration obligations and warning messages to “troublemakers”, and the police shall be empowered to issue fines against disobedient citizens.

German intelligence agencies seek to master the internet
by Albrecht Maurer
The Federal Intelligence Service and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution aim to expand their internet surveillance capacities by investing massively in new technologies. Unimpressed by the Snowden revelations on mass surveillance by the “Five Eyes” and the complicity of German authorities the Trust Panel of the German Bundestag hastily passed the expensive programmes in autumn 2014.