Alarming secret German deal on disclosure of personal data to the US published (2008-09-25)

 Civil liberties, data protection and internet activists united in the German NGO “Working Group on data retention” (Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung) today published a secret treaty on the disclosure of information about Europeans to US authorities ( The activist group warns ratification of the treaty would expose Germans to the risk of systematic human rights violations by US authorities and calls on the German parliament to refuse ratification of the deal which was negotiated without involvement of parliament, behind closed doors and without coordination with Germany's EU partners by conservative German minister of the interior Wolfgang Schäuble and social democrat minister of justice Brigitte Zypries.

According to the text of the agreement published today, Germany is to allow an unspecified number of US authorities such as law enforcement, border control and intelligence agencies to match fingerprints and DNA samples on-line with German fingerprints and DNA databases – an unprecedented move in Europe. German authorities are furthermore to be empowered to report people to the US they suspect of an involvement in terrorist activities. Currently German laws on international cooperation permit a transmission of information only to countries with an appropriate level of data protection in place.

The German Working Group on Data Retention warns Parliament not to ratify the ministers' deal for the following reasons:

  • Access to the German databases is not to be conditional upon a reasonable suspicion or a specific reason. Matching would be allowed to take place arbitrarily with any person's fingerprints and DNA, for example upon entry of tourists to the US.
  • The deal does not specify which US authorities are to be given access.
  • The use of information obtained from Germany in the US is not limited to the purpose of the request, nor is it limited to criminal proceedings. The US may thus insert obtained information in mass databases for an unlimited period of time and hand it on to other US authorities, whenever the US believes it necessary.
  • Nobody will ever find out that their information was passed on to the US. Even if they knew they are given no effective right to access the information, and they cannot effectively enforce a correction of false information in the US.
  • Affected citizens from Europe will have no access to independent courts in the US to stop erroneous or illegal measures. Nor do independent data protection authorities exist in the US.
  • Ignoring the low level of human rights protection in the US, the German ministers simply copied parts of the Prum Treaty - which had been drafted exclusively for member states to the European Convention on Human Rights - and applied them to a country where no similar guarantees exist.
  • The director of US civil liberties NGO ACLU Barry Steinhardt only recently warned: "If Europe agrees to data-sharing with the United States [...], then European citizens will have far fewer protections for their data in the United States than U.S. citizens will have in Europe. U.S. privacy laws are weak; they offer little protection to citizens and virtually none to non-citizens." [1] In regard to the protection of human rights, the US are a developing country. Its level of data protection is ranked between the Philippines and Thailand by British civil liberties NGO Privacy International.[2]
  • Countless cases document what are clearly standard procedures in the United States: The arrest of travellers from Europe upon entry to the US without giving any reason, without allowing any contact to the outside world and without providing even the most urgent medical treatment; the blanket monitoring of law-abiding citizens and businesses in Europe using financial data (SWIFT) and telecommunications surveillance (ECHELON); the issuing of no-fly lists and the freezing of assets without court orders; the killing of Europeans by way of capital punishment; the abduction of people from Europe to extraterritorial camps where they are imprisoned for an unlimited period of time, without any court order, and subjected to torture.

Any disclosure of information to the US is aiding ensuing human rights violations of the kind mentioned above. In view of its deficient protection of fundamental rights, data transfers to the United States can only be justified in emergencies such as imminent terrorist attacs. Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung calls on the German parliament to stop the plan which threatens the safety of hundreds of thousands of people registered in German databases.

“Disproportionality, lack of precision and predictability, deficient purpose limitation, lack of safeguards, no effective access to the courts – this deal defaults on basically all of the preconditions set out by the German Constitutional Court for interferences with our basic rights”, criticises jurist Patrick Breyer from the Working Group. “After spectacular failures with a series of laws that were declared unconstitutional only recently (concerning the bugging of homes, the shooting of aeroplanes captured by terrorists, the European arrest warrant and the blanket retention of telecommunications data) our representatives should have the wisdom to put this new plan on hold voluntarily.”

It is, among others, the transfer of personal information to US authorities that has led NGOs all over Europe to call for participation in an international action day “Freedom not fear – stop the surveillance mania” on 11 October (

About Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung:

Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung is a German association of civil rights and privacy activists as well as regular Internet users that runs a campaign against the complete logging of all telecommunications (


Full text of the treaty (in German only)