There is no legal basis for unreasonable and unfounded data retention and surveillance of people in Germany. Nevertheless, several politicians now want to introduce exactly that: a permanent control option without cause. They rely on one trick: fear. A comment.

At the beginning of the current government term, the grand coalition decided to tackle a number of projects. These include major topics such as the (partial) legalization of cannabis in Germany. Another important goal: Finally a clear regulation with regard to data retention in Germany.

Opinions in the traffic light coalition apparently differ widely. Surprisingly, the FDP of all people is calling for data retention to finally be shelved. And it actually seemed as if a practical, low-data protection solution had been found: the so-called quick freeze procedure.

What is the quick freeze process – and what are the differences to data retention?

Data retention is essentially the crawler network of data collection techniques. The IP address, location data and other information of theoretically all people or a specific location are stored for an almost unlimited period of time. In an emergency, law enforcement authorities could have immediate and full access to it.

Quick Freeze, on the other hand, is much more gentle on data and fundamental rights. The storage or freezing of the data only begins when there is concrete suspicion and a court order.

The past is therefore not recorded and evaluated. A court order is also necessary to subsequently use the recorded data. So yes: certain people or places can also be monitored using the quick freeze method. However, the effort and thus the safeguarding of fundamental rights is significantly higher.

Supreme court rulings prohibit data retention

Data retention has been discussed repeatedly and very eagerly in Germany and Europe for almost 15 years. Politicians and interest groups repeatedly bring up this comprehensive form of surveillance of countless innocent people.

The decisions of the highest courts in Germany and Europe are very clear. There is no legal basis in this country for data retention without reason. The Federal Administrative Court most recently decided this again in September 2023.

The European Court of Justice had confirmed a year earlier – in September 2022 – that “Union law precludes general and indiscriminate data retention of traffic and location data unless there is a serious threat to national security.”

Hesse is promoting data retention

Despite the very clear court rulings and against the federal government's plans, the Hesse Prime Minister Boris Rhein and his Justice Minister Christian Heinz are submitting a proposal to the Federal Council.

On April 26, 2024, the two Hessian politicians want to work to ensure that data retention without reason is introduced in Germany – for a period of one month.

Child abuse and scaremongering pave the way for total surveillance

The tricks used by politicians – including Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Fibre – are as simple as they are promising.

They say that many perpetrators cannot be caught because there is no corresponding information about IP addresses, device identifiers and location data. However, this is not about any victims, but rather about children and minors.

Justice Minister Christian Heinz explains in the statement:

Our initiative makes it clear: We are clearly positioning ourselves for effective prosecution of serious crimes, in particular the fight against child sexual abuse and child pornography.

Nobody would contradict this demand. After all, children are the most helpless and defenseless members of our society. There is no question that they must be protected at all costs.

Crime statistics confirm the increase – and provide an explanation

The recently published crime statistics also prove this. Accordingly, cases in the area of ​​child pornography and child abuse have increased significantly. However, there is a simple explanation for this, which was provided in 2022 through a small request from the “Die Linke” parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

At that time, the Federal Ministry of the Interior stated:

The sharp increase in the discovery of depictions of sexual violence against children on the Internet, which is ultimately reflected in police crime statistics, is a result of the increased clarification of the high number of unreported cases.

After a criminal dissemination act is reported, investigative measures are carried out, during which, in the majority of cases, numerous new child pornographic contents are seized and which usually lead to further suspects. At the same time, new investigations are subsequently initiated, in which large amounts of data of incriminated material are once again secured.

As technical detection options improve and individual providers become increasingly involved in the active search for relevant files and facts, more and more incriminated material is being discovered and reported to law enforcement authorities.

Increasing police crime statistics are therefore an indicator that the control mechanisms developed together with business are becoming more effective, more cases are being uncovered and therefore more ongoing acts of abuse are being stopped.

There is nothing to add.

Personified hypocrisy in the federal and state governments

So why are the current discussion and the current initiative from Hesse so questionable? Not because the intention behind it isn't right. We have to protect our children.

The proposal is so hypocritical because it seeks to introduce a law and a form of surveillance that has already been legally rejected on several occasions, under false pretenses – cases of child pornography are increasing and we must prevent this.

Or to put it even more simply: primal human fears and worries are being played with in order to achieve something that is actually not allowed or desired. To literally abuse children for this purpose falls into the bottom drawer and is abhorrent.

This article is a commentary. This is a journalistic form of presentation, which explicitly reflects the opinion of the author and not the entire magazine. The comment does not claim to be objective, but is intended to stimulate the formation of opinions and is protected as an opinion piece by Article 5 of the Basic Law.

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