CyTRAP Labs’ legislative watch - Germany - Federal Constitutional Court rejects law permitting government snooping of PCs
The Federal Constitutional Court [FCC] of the Federal Republic of Germany has rejected provisions adopted by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia that allowed investigators to covertly search PCs online.
In its ruling, the court creates a new right to confidentiality and integrity of personal data stored on IT systems. The ruling expands the current protection provided by the country’s constitutional rights for telecommunications privacy and the personal right to control private information under the German constitution.
Nonetheless, the court also pointed out that this right is not absolute and justified exceptions can be made. Most important is that the judges stated that PCs can be covertly search but only:
- …. if there is evidence that an important overriding right would otherwise be violated.
The above could, for instance, apply in case of possible terrorist acts or sexual exploitation of children. However, the court also pointed out that control mechanisms are needed to make sure that this possibility is not abused. The ruling makes clear that German law does not allow access to citizen’s PCs’ hard-drive wtihout real cause. This will constrain investigators’ efforts unless they can secure a court order based on just cause.
Find the press release about this ruling here (it is in German)
The full text of the court’s ruling as announced today can be found here:
CyTRAP Labs’ take on this issue
This ruling by the German Constitutional Court demonstrated that respecting laws and protecting citizens’ rights is vital for a democracy. Unfortunately, while Germany is very good when it comes to protecting its citizens’ rights in the digital world - especially privacy - when it comes to tax inspectors and suspected tax evasion, constutitional rights do not seem to apply.
Remember the Lichtenstein authories has asked Bochum and Munich prosecutors for assistance regarding the the stolen data by the accused Heinrich Kleiber and unkown parties. And while the Danish government said it considered the BND list to hunt tax evaders ’stolen goods’ and would not ask to see it, it is not clear if it will use the information if it is ‘mailed’ to them:
How do the Lichtenstein tax dodger case relate to the German Constitutional Court’s decision regarding online snooping by police?
When it comes to tax rates, we will never achieve morals by agreement across sovereign countries. But as the German Consitutional Court demonstrated, respecting laws and protecting citizens’ rights is vital for a democracy. What remains to be addressed is if we can trust Germany, UK and others that have violated another state’s laws by acquiring stolen goods. In fact, the person who stole these data from LGT Treuhand told the court in Liechtenstein that he had given all data back to the financial institution. He lied to the court….
So we have the German Constitutional Court that tries its best to protect citizen’s rights and privacy online and offline. But when it comes to taxes, all gloves are off. Germany’s federal state violates international law when it comes to tax dodgers. Can we trust the State of North Rhine-Westphalia to change its provisions allowing investigators to covertly search PCs online? Only the future will tell us because Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble already went in front of the press indicating that he still believes that online snooping will eventually be allowed unde German law.
As well, how can a state be so protective of its citizens and their rights when it comes to cyberspace (e.g., pedophiles) and privacy, however, have no qualms about using stolen goods to chase tax dodgers? Will this mean data snooping by police of citizens’ computers is permitted if tax evasion is being suspected (due cause) but not if we have to deal with pedophile cases? We hope that Germany begins to clarify this soon.