Tech & Rights

Does Germany Want Total Surveillance?

Germany is planning to pass a law this year allowing telecommunications data retention. Numerous critics deem this legislative proposal unconstitutional and fear extensive digital surveillance.

by Adriana Kessler

In 2008, Germany passed a law governing telecommunications data retention, but the Constitutional Court declared this law unconstitutional in 2010. The Court of Justice of the European Union decided in 2014 that the corresponding EU directive on telecommunications data retention was invalid. The German government claims to have respected these decisions, but the federal commissioner for data protection does not agree.

Which data will be stored?

According to the new draft law, telecommunication companies are to keep records of who is calling whom, when and for how long, and where the callers are located. The phone numbers or IP addresses will be stored but the content of the conversation may not be recorded. Compared to the 2008 law, the maximum storage time has been reduced.

So-called traffic data can only be kept for 10 weeks, but the information about the caller’s location can now be kept for four weeks, which is new. This will provide the radio cell (the nearest mobile antenna) from where a person is making a call or connects to mobile Internet.

What is the Problem?

Essentially, the storage of data represents a massive infringement of fundamental and human rights, which is allowed only under specific conditions. This regards Article 10 of the German Fundamental Law (privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications), Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (right to privacy and the protection of personal data), as well as Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to privacy).

The necessity of an infringement of Article 10 of the German fundamental law must always be proven beforehand. However, critics express severe doubts that the collection of private data of the entire population is necessary. They say that there is no proof that telecommunications data retention increases the success of criminal investigations at all. Police and the judiciary are already able to use, partly at least, stored information from e-mail or Facebook profile information.

According to rulings of the German Federal Constitutional Court, the state has to make sure that in their sum, the measures taken do not allow for total surveillance, even if, taken individually, some of the measures would be legal.

But that is exactly what the draft law is proposing. Experts see the threat that stored information will provide for a very fine grid and very detailed movement profile. This would allow for precise conclusions regarding the private life of any person who uses a mobile telephone. It would include information about a person's habits of everyday life, whereabouts and social environment.