A new proposal for a surveillance law in the German state of Saxony is threatening to lead to abhorrent consequences on a stretch of Germany’s international border. The draft law is part of a wave of drastic police law reforms that are being discussed in 15 of the 16 federal states of Germany.
The police law proposed by the state government of Saxony is particularly concerning, with plans such as increasing the use of police informers, allowing communications interception and inhibition, and arming the police with hand grenades and machine guns. With the stated aim of controlling organised crime, Saxony also intends to allow video surveillance with biometrics technology – such as automatic face recognition – along the two international sections of the state’s border, neighbouring the Czech Republic and Poland. This would not only apply at the border itself, but anywhere up to 30 kilometres away from it. The Pirate group at the University of Dresden, in the Saxon capital, computed that this zone would cover just over half of Saxony, not just a quarter or a third as proponents of the measure had claimed.
Protests against the draft police law are being led by a local alliance of organisations and individuals. EDRi member Digitalcourage supports this alliance and has teamed up with fellow EDRi members Iuridicum Remedium (IuRe) from the Czech Republic and Panoptykon Foundation from Poland to voice their concerns. Digitalcourage submitted a detailed response to the draft law to Saxony’s state parliament, describing the surveillance plans as “a statement of mistrust against our Czech and Polish neighbours” and pointing to the state’s constitution which in article 12 “calls for cross-border regional cooperation – and not preemptive, automatised surveillance.” Digitalcourage “observes with great concern that with these changes, the Saxon police and judiciary will take on characteristics of a ‘preemptive state’. The plans for preemptive telecommunications and video surveillance and data processing powers will shift the focus of police work from investigation to surveillance.”
IuRe and members of the Czech Pirate Party have raised their concerns with Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček. IuRe lawyer Jan Vobořil wrote in a press release that “as Czech citizens [IuRe] perceives the plans for camera systems along the border and 30 km into Germany as a threat […] It is impossible to ignore that this is a comprehensive incursion into the basic rights of every cross-border traveller.”
Wojciech Klicki, legal analyst at Panoptykon Foundation, wrote in support of Digitalcourage’s statement: “The use of face recognition technology is a sign of treating everyone as a potential suspect. This proposal also demonstrates a lack of trust between respective Polish and German police forces. Collecting personal data can be justified only in exceptional, specific cases. In other cases, it is essentially a tool of mass surveillance of local communities and incomers/commuters from Poland.”
Digitalcourage is calling on the Saxon government to stop the legislative process for this proposal which has disregarded necessary assessment including a privacy assessment for the border surveillance and include clear risk of fundamental rights violations.
Saxon police law: Czech, Polish and German criticism on planned facial recognition on the border (only in German)
Press release: Saxon police law: Czech, Polish and German criticism on planned facial recognition on the border (only in German)
Comments submitted to Parliament (only in German)
Comments submitted to Saxon parliament by Amnesty International, Saxony branch (only in German)
Cross-border criticism of facial recognition in Saxony (only in German, 12.11.2018)
Press release: Saxon police planning to install facial recognition cameras to the border with the Czech Republic (only in Czech, 26.10.2018)
Smart cameras at the Polish-German border (only in Polish, 13.11.2018)
(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken, EDRi member Digitalcourage)