German federal police illegally collect data to blacklist journalists and activists

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) are illegally storing masses of data regarding supposed “politically motivated crimes.” As broadcaster ARD reported, data on more than 100,000 people accused of such offenses is being held in a database called “Internal Security,” even though in the vast majority of cases, there has never been a charge, let alone a court proceeding. The ARD report suggests that the BKA is operating a “blacklist” of journalists and political activists classified as “left-wing extremists.”
Both the extent of the surveillance and the arbitrary and unconstitutional storage of such data are typical characteristics of an authoritarian police state. The BKA is combining the records of the secret service and various police bodies. Its enthusiasm for data hoarding goes beyond that of the Stasi (State Security Police) of the former East Germany. The scandalous activity has come to light by chance. In the course of the G20 summit in Hamburg, a total of 32 journalists had their previously-issued accreditation withdrawn. The reason for this was said to be “security concerns.” Several journalists subsequently lodged a freedom of information request with the BKA. This showed that in most cases, the “concerns” were completely unfounded. According to the BKA information, photojournalist Frank Bründel “strongly supported or belongs to a violent movement.” In fact, the Hamburg police had only checked the identity of the journalist, who was there to pursue his profession at a demonstration on May 1. But this was already enough to place him on the BKA’s blacklist of “left-wing and violent” persons. The file on journalist Björn Kietzmann is even more drastic. The photographer has a spotless police record, but the BKA file contains 18 completely groundless allegations against him, including “causing an explosion,” in the “politically motivated violence” category. Other journalists were accused of having photographed police officers on protests or of violating the law of assembly. They often found themselves classified as “activists of a left-wing extremist scene” in the files. And although in almost all cases, the journalists concerned were found not guilty by the judiciary, the BKA did not see any reason to remove them from their database of “violent left-wingers.”
But these journalists are just the tip of the iceberg. According to the Federal Interior Ministry, records on some 109,625 persons and 1,153,351 criminal offences are currently stored, 27 times more than the 41,549 politically motivated offences recorded in the official criminal statistics for 2016. This completely arbitrary and unconstitutional storage of data was apparently made possible by a deliberate legal vagueness in the BKA Act, which allows data collection even if the persons concerned have not been convicted in court. However, in each individual case, the BKA must justify why the subjects are expected to continue to commit politically motivated crimes.

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