German govt and intelligence agencies face penal charges for spying

By EDRi · February 12, 2014

Penal charges against the German government and US and UK secret
services have been filed on 3 February 2014 by three German NGOs – the
International League for Human Rights, Chaos Computer Club (CCC) and
Digitalcourage. (Digitalcourage and CCC are EDRi members) The criminal
complaint is about mass surveillance, illegal covert intelligence
activities, violations of the basic rights to privacy, and obstruction
of justice by tolerating and supporting illegal surveillance of German
citizens by NSA and GCHQ.

By filing these charges, the complainants hope to force German
authorities, specifically the Federal Prosecutor, to finally investigate
the surveillance scandal that politicians and government officials have
largely been trying to evade. What needs to be investigated is not just
the role of intelligence agencies from outside Germany. The list of the
accused consists of:
– secret service agents from the US, UK and Germany as well as their
– the President of the German foreign intelligence agency
(Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) Gerhard Schindler,
– the President of the German interior intelligence agency (Bundesamt
für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) Hans-Georg Maaßen,
– the President of Germany’s military intelligence agency (Militärischer
Abschirmdienst, MAD) Ulrich Birkenheier,
– the heads of the German federal states’ interior secret services,
– the Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière, Federal
Chancellor Angela Merkel and all other members of the German Federal
– and for all these, their respective predecessors in office.

The complaint names three laws in the German penal code
(Strafgesetzbuch, StGB) considered to have been broken by the accused.
These are: illegal activity as a foreign spy, violation of privacy and
obstruction of justice.

As part of the investigation called for by the complaint, it is intended
that Edward Snowden be invited to testify as a key witness. This would
enable him to be provided with safe passage and protection against
extradition to the US.

Reactions in the German media have been largely positive. The public has
been invited to add their names to the criminal complaint (at no cost),
which can be done via a petition tool by Digitalcourage that generates a
PDF to print out and send to the lawyers that deal with the complaint.

Anyone potentially affected by surveillance in Germany in the present or
past can join the complaint. The online tool is only available in
German, though. It is seeing vivid use at the time of writing.

Further complaints in Europe have been filed in Belgium and France
through the International League of Human Rights, and in the UK by
three British NGOs (including EDRi member Open Rights Group) joined by a
CCC speaker. If necessary, some of these cases could be advanced to the
European level. (The British complaint was sent directly to the European
Court of Human Rights which has already asked the British government to

Press releases (in German unless noted): (English)
(English version to follow)

Privacy not Prism legal challenge in UK

Full text of the complaint (only in German, 3.02.2014)

Invitation to join the complaint via online petition tool (only in
German, 10.02.2014)

EDRi-gram: UK government must justify its large-scale surveillance
activities (29.01.2014)

(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken, EDRi member Digitalcourage)