Germany unconstitutional surveillance law

Britta Eder's phone list is full of people the German state considers criminals. As a defense lawyer in Hamburg, her client list includes anti-fascists, anti-nuclear activists and members of the PKK, a banned militant Kurdish nationalist organization.

For the sake of her clients, she's used to being very careful on the phone. "When I talk on the phone I always think, I'm not alone," she says.

This self-awareness even extends to phone calls with her mother.police

When Hamburg passed new legislation in 2019 allowing police to use data analysis software made by Palantir, a CIA-backed company, there was always the fear that it could be overused by authorities. A feature of Palantir's Gotham platform allows police to map networks of phone contacts, putting people like Eder—who are connected to alleged criminals but aren't criminals themselves—effectively under surveillance.

"I thought this was the next step in the police's effort to gain more ability to observe people without concrete evidence linking them to a crime," Eder said. So she decided to become one of the 11 claimants trying to overturn the Hamburg law.

Yesterday they succeeded.

Germany's highest court ruled the Hamburg law unconstitutional and for the first time issued strict guidelines on how automatic data analysis tools like Palantir should be used by police. He even warned against including data belonging to bystanders, such as witnesses or lawyers like Eder. The ruling said the Hamburg law and a similar law in Hesse "allow the police, with a single click, to create comprehensive profiles of individuals, groups and circles", without distinguishing between suspected criminals and people associated with them.

The ruling didn't ban Palantir's Gotham tool, but it limited how police can use it.

"Eder's risk of having her data flagged or processed by Palantir will now be dramatically reduced," said Bijan Moini, head of legal at the Berlin-based Civil Rights Foundation (GFF), which brought the case to court.

While Palantir was not the target of the ruling, the ruling deals a blow to the 19-year-old company's policing ambitions in Europe's biggest market. Billionaire Peter Thiel, the company's co-founder who remains Palantir's chairman, helps law enforcement clients connect disparate databases and pull vast amounts of people data into one accessible field of information. But the decision issued by the German court could affect similar situations across the rest of the European Union, says Sebastian Golla, assistant professor of criminology at Ruhr University Bochum, who wrote the complaint against Hamburg's Palantir law.

"I think this will have a bigger impact and not just in Germany."

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Written by giorgos

George still wonders what he's doing here ...

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