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German civil society calls for a definitive end to telecommunications data retention (20 Apr 2010) Print E-mail

 More than 40 organisations and associations yesterday asked the German Federal Minister of Justice to "push for the abolition of EU telecommunications data retention requirements" which compel phone and Internet companies to collect data about their customers' communications. According to the letter, data retention puts confidential activity and contacts, for example to journalists, crisis lines and business partners, at risk of disclosure by way of data leaks and abuses. It is expensive and damages the freedom of communication.

Among the 48 signatories of the letter are German civil liberties, data protection and human rights associations as well as crisis line and emergency call operators, professional associations of journalists, jurists and doctors, major trade unions, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations and the eco Association of the German Internet Industry.

On 2 March 2010 the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled the German data retention provisions unconstitutional and void, following complaints from over 34,000 German citizens.[1] However a 2006 EU directive compels member states to implement a data retention regime. The European Commission is currently reviewing this directive.[2] The German Federal Minister of Justice, a member of the liberal party, has yet to call for an end to the EU-wide compulsion to collect communications data.[3]

"The EU-wide requirement to retain the entire population's communications data, introduced in 2005, is outdated", comments Patrick Breyer of the German Working Group on Data Retention, a civil liberties NGO. "Blanket data retention has proven to be superfluous, harmful and unconstitutional in many states across Europe, such as Germany, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Romania and Sweden. These states prosecute crime just as effectively using targeted instruments, such as the internationally agreed Convention on Cybercrime.[4] Where data retention has been implemented, the crime clearance rate has not increased. For example in North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populated state of Germany, 85% of all reported Internet crime was cleared in 2007[5] before the introduction of data retention legislation, but only 77% was cleared in 2008[6] and in 2009[7] after the implementation of data retention. The EU regulations must now be made more flexible to allow for alternative procedures that work more intelligently than an untargeted stockpiling of data."

"About 70% of all Germans are opposed to a recording of their contacts and location in the absence of any suspicion[8]", says Florian Altherr of the Working Group. "They want to be sure that their private and business contacts to marital crisis lines, lawyers, journalists and others cannot fall into the wrong hands or erroneously make them a suspect in the eyes of law enforcement authorities. The countless number of data scandals such as the systematic abuse of communications data at Deutsche Telekom have taught us that only erased data is safe data."

Translation of the letter to the Federal Minister of Justice of 19 April 2010:

Federal Minister of Justice
Ms Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger
Mohrenstraße 37
10117 Berlin

Dear Madam,

on 2 March 2010 the Federal Constitutional Court declared the German provisions on data retention unconstitutional and void. Yet some voices are already calling for the re-enactment of new data retention legislation.

According to the 2006 EU data retention directive, telecommunications companies must store data about all of their customers' communications. In order to improve criminal investigations, the directive aims at making traceable who communicated with whom in the last six months by telephone, mobile phone or e-mail. In the case of mobile phone calls and text messages, the respective location of the user is to be recorded as well. In combination with other data, internet usage is also to be made traceable.

We consider unacceptable so far-reaching a recording of the German people's behaviour. With a data retention regime in place, sensitive information about social contacts (including business contacts), movements and the private lives (e.g. contacts with physicians, lawyers, workers councils, psychologists, helplines) of over 80 million citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany is collected in the absence of any suspicion. Telecommunications data retention thus undermines the professional secrecy of lawyers, physicians, clergy, helplines and other professionals, and creates the risk of data losses and data abuses. It undermines the protection of journalistic sources and thus damages the freedom of the press. Overall it damages the preconditions of our open and democratic society. The enormous costs of a telecommunications data retention regime that complies with the constitutional requirements are considerably higher than previously estimated and, in the absence of a compensation scheme, must be borne by the more than 6'000 affected telecommunications providers. This would lead to price increases as well as the discontinuation of services, and would indirectly burden consumers.

Studies prove that the communications data available today is generally sufficient for effective criminal investigations. There is no proof that telecommunications data retention would provide for better protection against crime. Instead it would cost millions of euros, put the privacy of innocent people at risk, disrupt confidential communications and pave the way for an ever-increasing mass accumulation of information about the entire population.

Legal experts expect the European Court of Human Rights to follow the Constitutional Court of Romania and declare the retention of telecommunications data in the absence of any suspicion incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström have already announced an examination of the data retention directive's compatibility with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

As representatives of the citizens, the media, professionals and industry we collectively reject the calls for re-enactment of telecommunications data retention legislation. We appeal to you to reject blanket retention of telecommunications data, regardless of a possible EU infringement procedure. Instead we call on you to unambiguously push for the abolition of the EU requirements regarding data retention, to allow every European state to make its own decisions regarding the protection of its citizens' communications secrecy. In doing so, please be assured of our support.

Yours faithfully,


  1. Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (Working Group on Data Retention)
  2. Aktion Freiheit statt Angst e.V. (Movement Freedom not Fear)
  3. Attac Deutschland (Attac Germany)
  4. Bund demokratischer Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler e.V. (Confederation of Democratic Scientists)
  5. Berufsverband Deutscher Psychologinnen und Psychologen e.V. (Federal Association of Psychologists)
  6. Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Kritischer Polizistinnen und Polizisten (Hamburger Signal) e.V. (Federal Working Group of Critical Police Officers)
  7. Bundesverband Frauenberatungsstellen und Frauennotrufe – Frauen gegen Gewalt e.V. (Federal Association of Women's Helpdesks and Emergency Lines)
  8. Chaos Computer Club e.V.
  9. Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe e.V. (German Aids Self-Help Association)
  10. Deutsche Journalistinnen- und Journalisten-Union dju in ver.di (German Union of Journalists dju in the United Services Trade Union ver.di)
  11. Deutscher Journalisten-Verband e.V. (German Association of Journalists)
  12. Deutscher Presserat (German Press Council)
  13. DFJV Deutscher Fachjournalisten-Verband AG (German Association of Specialised Journalists)
  14. DPV Deutscher Presse Verband – Verband für Journalisten e.V. (German Press Association)
  15. DVD - Deutsche Vereinigung für Datenschutz e.V. (German Association for Data Protection)
  16. eco - Verband der deutschen Internetwirtschaft e.V. (eco Association of the German Internet Industry)
  17. Ev. Konferenz für Telefonseelsorge und Offene Tür e.V. (Protestant Conference for Crisis Lines and Open Door)
  18. FIfF - Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung e.V. (FIfF Forum of IT Professionals for Peace and Social Responsibility)
  19. FoeBuD e.V. 
  20. Förderverein für eine Freie Informationelle Infrastruktur (FFII) e.V. (Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure e.V.)
  21. Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (FITUG) e.V. (Association for the Promotion of IT and Society)
  22. Forum Menschenrechte e.V. (Human Rights Forum)
  23. Free Software Foundation Europe e.V.
  24. FREELENS e.V.
  25. Freie Ärzteschaft e.V. (Free Medical Practitioners)
  26. Gesellschaft für Datenschutz und Datensicherheit e.V. (Association for Data Protection and Data Security)
  27. Humanistische Union e.V. (Humanistic Union)
  28. IALANA
  29. IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt (German Construction Union)
  30. Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte e.V. (International League for Human Rights)
  31. Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie e.V. (Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy)
  32. Lesben- und Schwulenverband LSVD (Association of Homosexuals in Germany)
  33. Magistrats européens pour la Démocratie et les Libertés – MEDEL
  34. naiin - no abuse in internet e.V.
  35. NAV-Virchow-Bund – Verband der niedergelassenen Ärzte Deutschlands e.V. (Association of Doctors in Private Practice)
  36. Netzwerk Neue Medien e.V. (New Media Network)
  37. netzwerk recherche e.V. (Network of Investigative Journalists)
  38. Neue Richtervereinigung e.V. (Association of German Magistrates and Public Prosecutors)
  39. Organisationsbüro der Strafverteidigervereinigungen (Office of Associations of Criminal Defense Lawyers)
  40. PRO ASYL e.V.
  41. Reporter ohne Grenzen e.V. (Reporters without Borders)
  42. Republikanischer Anwältinnen- und Anwälteverein e.V. (Association of Republican Lawyers)
  43. Verband der Freien Lektorinnen und Lektoren VFLL e.V. (Association of Independent Literary Editors)
  44. Verband Freier Psychotherapeuten, Heilpraktiker für Psychotherapie und Psychologischer Berater e.V. (Association of Independent Psychotherapists)
  45. Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. (Federation of German Consumer Organisations)
  46. Verein demokratischer Ärztinnen und Ärzte (Association of Democratic Doctors)
  47. Vereinigung Demokratischer Juristinnen und Juristen e.V. (Association of Democratic Jurists)
  48. Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft (United Services Trade Union ver.di)

The joint letter in the pdf format (in German only)

About Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (German Working Group on Data Retention):
The Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (AK Vorrat) is a Germany-wide organisation which campaigns against extensive surveillance in general and the blanket logging of telecommunications and other behavioural data in particular.
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