On the ground | Privacy and data protection | Surveillance and data retention

Strategic litigation against civil rights violations in police laws

By Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (guest author) · April 24, 2019

Almost every German state has expanded or is preparing to expand police powers. The police authorities are now more often allowed to interfere with civil rights, even before a specific danger has been identified. They are also given new means to conduct secret surveillance online. EDRi member Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF, Society for Civil Rights) is taking legal action against all changes in police powers that violate civil rights. GFF has already lodged constitutional complaints against the police laws in the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

In Germany, police powers are defined on the state level, not the federal level. At the moment, there is a clear trend to expand these powers across nearly all German federal states. The development has been pioneered by Bavaria, where in May 2018, the police was endowed with powers nearly comparable to those of secret services. The amendment in question introduced the term of “impending danger”, meaning that the police is allowed to encroach on civil rights in various ways when merely assuming that a dangerous situation could develop — which can virtually always be justified. The police can thus use far-reaching measures like online searches and telecommunications surveillance as preventive instruments.

Trend towards expanded police powers

While Bavaria is the most blatant example, several other states have subsequently introduced police laws that encroach on civil rights. Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Brandenburg already amended their police laws.

The amendments differ, but all of them introduce questionable measures that police authorities may now use. Many federal states introduced online searches and telecommunication surveillance. This is an unprecedented way of encroaching on the fundamental right to confidentiality and integrity of information technology systems. At the same time, it means that police authorities may take advantage of security gaps and thereby destabilise the general IT security.

Other new police powers include the use of electronic shackles and bodycams, the extension of video surveillance in public places, the possibility of extended DNA analysis, the extension of maximum detention periods and the technical upgrading of the police (including hand grenades, stun guns and drones).

Legal action against excessive expansion of police powers

GFF and its partners have already filed constitutional complaints against the new police laws in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and are currently investigating possible action against the changes in the police laws of the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse. GFF is also critically involved in the reform debates in the other state parliaments and plans to take legal action against the further expansion of police powers in Germany.

Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF, Society for Civil Rights)

Germany: New police law proposals threaten civil rights (05.12.2018)

Overview of police law changes in the German states prepared by Amnesty International and GFF (only in German)

(Contribution by EDRi member Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, Germany)