Mass surveillance in Germany rebuked by Council of Europe

German mass surveillance has come under heavy fire, but its treatment of refugees has been praised. [CBS Fan/Flickr]

The Council of Europe has issued a damning indictment of mass surveillance in Germany. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

In a recent report on Germany, Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, criticises the fact that democratic control of the intelligence services is practically impossible and that mass surveillance can be carried out virtually unchecked.

According to the report, “the relationship between the number of supervisors and the number of those being supervised is particularly relevant: two committees with 13 members, supported by a small secretariat, supervise 6,000 employees at the Federal Intelligence Service (BND)”.

Parliamentary control is insufficient

German parliament controls and the G10 Commission “were not sufficiently equipped to read and analyse the G10 data”. Inspectors compete with each other and do not coordinate their work.

The Commissioner also found it troubling that the German government defines what should be monitored and that citizens who are under surveillance have difficulties taking legal action. According to Muižnieks, the G10 Commission is only aware of 10% of monitoring that is undertaken.

Another of Muižnieks’ complaints was that data supervision abroad is already deprived of democratic control. Germany has to clarify whether this is constitutional.

The Council recommends that “any increase in budget for the intelligence services must be complemented by a corresponding increase in budget for regulatory bodies.” In addition, all regulatory bodies should have access to any documents and information they deem necessary to carry out effective controls, “regardless of their classification level.”

Muižnieks cited Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway as examples of where this is the case. “Germany can learn from these examples of good practice,” he said.

Lessons not learned from NSU affair

Further criticism was levelled at Germany in relation to the National Socialist Underground affair (NSU). He had heard from many interlocutors that the 2011 murders perpetrated by right-wing extremists had “opened German eyes”, said Muižnieks in Berlin.

“But, I wonder, what has Germany learned from the NSU affair? I want to see more from it.” The failure seems to still “not have been fully understood”.

>>Read: German government denies it has a racism problem

Institutional reforms are necessary; an independent body to deal with complaints against the police, as in the UK, could play an essential role. Judges and prosecutors should be trained how to deal with cases of racism.

Muižnieks made mention of the government’s response to his criticism, which referred to the course on intercultural awareness provided to the judiciary. He said that he thought this was a good thing, but that, “it doesn’t counter racism itself.”

Increasing hatred deplored

The Commissioner praised Germany’s treatment of refugees. Germany is doing a good job and should be held as a “model for Europe and the world”, even though there is, “unfortunately a small minority” that is aiming “increased hatred” at refugees.

Muižnieks is heavily critical of the common EU asylum policy, known as the Dublin system, and Germany’s responsibility in it.

>>Read: Germany suspends Dublin agreement for Syrian refugees

The Dublin principles “don’t even produce the results they are supposed to.”

The German judiciary is backlogged with Dublin-cases. For these reasons, the Commissioner believes that, “the Dublin system needs a drastic overhaul”.

He called upon Germany to take the lead in replacing the Dublin principles with a system more strongly orientated toward human rights. His message to Germany was, “you’re doing well. Don’t take a backward step, remain an active part of European reform”.

The Council of Europe, founded in 1949, is a regional intergovernmental organisation which promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law in its 47 member states, covering 820 million citizens. The organisation is separate from the 28-nation European Union. Unlike the European Union, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws.

The best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights. The Council of Europe's work has resulted in standards, charters and conventions to facilitate cooperation between European countries as an advisory body.

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