German Parliament rejects motion against data retention
On 20 June the German Parliament rejected a resolution that would have requested the federal government to join the action for annulment of the EU telecommunications data retention directive at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The text had been introduced by the opposition parties Greens, Liberals and Left Party and was supported by 133 parliamentarians. But the grand coalition of the governing parties voted against it, with one abstention from the Conservatives. The authors of the resolution argued that the data retention decision should have been made in the "Third Pillar" of the European Union structure in the form of a framework directive, which would have required an unanimous vote in the Council of Ministers.
The governments of Ireland and Slovakia who voted against the Directive during the final decision in February have already started a case at the ECJ. Their chances are good, as the court's recent decision on the transfer of passenger data to the United States was taken on the same grounds. The German opposition also asked to postpone the transposition of the Directive into the federal law until this case is decided, because even if the Directive is annulled, national laws would still be valid. The EU Directive mandates the retention of all telecommunications traffic data within the EU for 6 to 24 months for law enforcement and national security purposes.
Parliamentarian Jerzy Montag from the Greens, who had drafted the resolution, reminded his colleagues that the German Parliament and Government had always asked for a framework decision, last time in a February 2006 resolution. Therefore he criticized : "Commission and Council have changed the horses during the action, while the cart stayed the same". Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries claimed that the government had "enforcedly accepted" the change of the legal grounds for data retention in order not to endanger the substantial outcome.
The majority of the parliamentarians was unimpressed by several last-minute attempts from non-governmental organizations to support the opposition's motion. On 17 June, around 250 citizens followed the call by a broad coalition of 15 civil liberties and other groups for a demonstration "Freedom instead of Security Delusion" in Berlin. It was mainly organized by the Working Party on Data Retention, an informal network set up in December 2005 with the help of German EDRi members Netzwerk Neue Medien (NNM) , FoeBuD, and Forum InformatikerInnen für Frieden und gesellschaftliche Verantwortung (FIfF). The demonstration was the first attempt in years to bring anti-surveillance protest to the streets and, considering the short preparation time of less than three weeks, it was seen by the organisers as a success to build on.
The Forum Human Rights, a coalition of 45 German human rights organizations, also published a position paper on data retention on 16 June and formally submitted it to the Parliament before the vote. The paper criticizes data retention as "totally disproportionate and an attack on the foundation of a free and democratic society".
The Forum Human Rights joined others in their analysis that any law on mandatory data retention would be in violation of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the German Constitution. If the Directive is transposed into German law, several civil liberties groups are already preparing to challenge it at the Constitutional Court. These legal and political activities, seen together with the demonstration that sparked a number of creative activities, are an indication that anti-surveillance activities are getting more momentum in Germany.
German Parliament rejected the Resolution "Reviewing the Directive on Data
Retention by the European Court of Justice" (in German only, 20.06.2006)
Working Party on Data Retention (in German only)
Protest march "Freedom rather than obsession with security" (17.06.2006)
http://web125.nice-host.de/VDS/html/VDS/index.php/Announcement In German, with after-action information
http://web125.nice-host.de/VDS/html/VDS/index.php/Aufruf Pictures from the demonstration (17.06.2006)
Forum Human Rights Position Paper "Data retention violates fundamental
rights and undermines a free society" (in German only, 16.06.2006)
(Contribution by Ralf Bendrath, German EDRi member Netzwerk Neue Medien)