CDU and FDP in the State Assembly reserved toward Greens Proposal /
Debate also about peoples referendum
The Greens' proposed records access law for citizens is supported by Hessian Data Security Commissioner Friedrich von Zezschwitz. The SPD also welcomes the initiative, but the CDU and FDP have expressed serious reservations.
Wiesbaden. On Tuesday, the Hessian data security commissioner made use of his right for the first time to address a topic independently of his annual data security report in the State Assembly. He said he supported a legislative proposal from the Greens for a new "Freedom of Information Law." According to the proposed law, every citizen should have the right to be able to look at the records of government agencies, ministries and independent public companies, so long as the records do not contain other people's personal data or operational secrets.
There are numerous positive examples, said Greens faction chief Tarek Al-Wazir: he said that Berlin, Brandenburg and Schleswig-Holstein already had comparable laws and that in countries like France, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the USA, the right to look at records was taken for granted.
Professor von Zezschwitz stated that such a law was important for the implementation of a modern image of the state in which the administration's services functions were more strongly emphasized. Corporations, in particular, almost unanimously wanted faster and better flows of information from government agencies. The Data Security Commissioner did not share the objection of FDP faction chief Joerg-Uwe Hahn that, through this law, sects like the Scientology organization could get a look into important agency memos. It was said that legal protective mechanisms could be built in.
Interior Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU) and Hahn expressed concern that additional bureaucracy would be created by the law for freedom of information. Bouffier thought that democratic initiative would not be promoted by the free access to records. SPD Representative Michael Siebel said that it had been shown in the USA that a politic of open information by the administration had been an important point of reference for corporations. The Greens' legislative proposal will be formally introduced into the State Assembly on Tuesday, and is supposed to be discussed in committees with technical experts.
Two Greens legislative proposals have also been published on the theme of popular referenda. The Greens want the quorum by supporters' signatures, which is necessary for the introduction of a statewide people's referendum or a municipal popular referendum, sharply reduced. In contrast, Bouffier thought that the current regulations have withstood the test of time. FDP faction chief Hahn also expressed reservations, but admitted that there were "discussions" in his party on the theme.
Scientology rummages through files of Schleswig-Holstein's Sect Commissioner
May 17, 2000
Kiel - The Scientology sect has rummaged through files of the Schleswig-Holstein state government in Kiel - entirely legally. The director of Scientology's "human rights office," Ingo Lehmann, has spent the last couple of days in ministries, and especially in the state sect commissioner's office, peering at several hundred proceedings and comments about Scientology. Now he is very well able to say what has been going on in the past, Lehmann said happily afterwards.
This type of research by the controversial organization is thanks to the new, extensive freedom of information law which the Schleswig-Holstein state assembly decided upon several months ago. According to that decision, state, counties and municipalities must open their files. Agencies may only block off that which contains personal data or proceedings in process, or that which would put internal security at risk. The only other place which has such a liberal law is Brandenburg. That is where Lehmann studied files last Friday.
The administration carefully prepared for his visit to Kiel. For instance, a travel schedule was planned for the Scientologist from Munich by the state administration. Yesterday, the Ministries of Commerce and Finance were on the program. On the day before, Lehman rummaged through the records of sect commissioner Matthias Knothe, which is the archive of his opponent. Knothe took it calmly: "We work with shades up."
Three staff members had viewed the file contents for a week previously. Lehman finally got to see 36 folders, and according to Knothe's estimate, about 80 percent of the contents, including brochures, opinions and press articles about Scientology. Comments by the administration were only revealed if they were not confidential. As an example [of documents revealed], Knothe named an inquiry from the Education Ministry for brochures which had showed up in schools.
Documents not revealed included those for the cabinet, letters to other states and the federal government, as well as written, personal statements such as those from former Scientologists. He had run into much which he already knew, said Lehmann, for example he found his own letters of protest. But the Scientologist did not walk away with empty hands. 13 proceedings interested him so much that he had them copied. That is also permitted by law. Lehmann even relieved the state government of a burden yesterday afternoon by placing himself at the copier of the Ministry of Finance. Other ministries have not yet revealed their files as desired. Lehmann therefore announced that he would soon return to Kiel. (ubi)
Records access law
Mad rush yet to happen
April 11, 2000
dpa Potsdam - Two years ago, Brandenburg was the first German state to grant by law to its citizens extensive rights in accessing government files. Brandenburg's example was followed in October 1999 by Berlin, and in February of this year by Schleswig-Holstein. The mad rush from citizens has yet to happen: Friedrichshain District office in Berlin has counted just a dozen applications so far, some other agencies have had no requests at all so far. Not even in the advance guard of Brandenburg or in Schleswig-Holstein has the law brought government to a standstill, as had been feared. As a rule, the records access law permits any citizen free access to documents, files and other official data repositories. Examples of exceptions are data related to persons or to hearings in process.
After the Scientology Organization announced that it would make use of the law to access files, the Brandenburg coalition factions of the SPD and CDU had thought about restricting rights to applicants with a justified interest. Brandenburg's Data Security Commissioner Alexander Dix has already spoken out vehemently against possible restrictions.
Law opens data bases
Government agencies show their hands
April 5, 2000
Kiel - a citizen of the Halstenbek community now hopes to at last track down the story of the "Knick-Eis" (the extravagant sports auditorium which kept getting more expensive and then collapsed twice), and has applied for extensive records access. General access to information available from government agencies has been guaranteed for several weeks by a law which hardly anyone knows about, so far. Nevertheless, Helmut Baeumler, the state data security commissioner, has already received several dozen inquiries to investigate. Citizens want to know what they may now do and what government agencies have to do. "Many agencies are horrified," said Baeumler's staff member, Lukas Gundermann. The state administration does not seem especially thrilled that the SSW managed to obtain a majority in the state assembly for the "Freedom of Access to Information Law." And so it came into effect without any sort of explanation being offered. Then when Scientology, of all groups, used the opportunity to apply for access to industry and commerce files, opponents vented steam. The law was said to be "unclear in important questions, inefficient and without any means of preventing misuse," thundered through the chambers. Confidentiality of business data and applications at the government agencies were said to be "massively at risk."
"Operating and trade secrets are clearly and explicitly protected by the law," SSW faction chairman Anke Spoorendonk responded to the criticism. That was said to also apply "to protected interests of people which were greater than the public interest in openness."
That is the crux of the problem. Not only in the "Knick-Eis" case, but also in many other inquiries is, in Baeumler's estimation, separation between the newly accessible data and the data which is now and has always been protected very difficult. The Data Security Commission therefore recommends that all government agencies to have "anonymized" files on hand - that means when documents are filed, statements about people should be separate from the rest of the files. "We have been pleading for years that data should be organized differently," said Baeumler. His agency plans the distribution of leaflets for citizens and agencies with practical tips on the new law which Baeumler describes as "major progress" on the "long march from the mindset of a superior state to citizen friendliness." Administrations must recognize that something is different, said Baeumler: "They must now let people look at their hand of cards, figuratively speaking.
Sect asks about sects
Scientology applies to authorities for file access
March 16, 2000
Kiel - Schleswig-Holstein sect commissioner Matthias Knothe is preparing for an unusual visit. Scientology would like to poke around in his documents, thereby making use of a new state file access law for the first time. Scientology also has put in inquiries at several ministries and chambers.
It is a form letter, reports Knothe. The sender is a Scientology Germany "human rights office" headquartered in Munich. It asks whether the agency has files on "Scientology," "sects" or "psychogroups."
If that is the case, agencies must provide access to this recorded material. The principle is the new state freedom of information law which has been in effect since February 25. It says that state, county and local governments may only block off personal data, operational secrets, or data that would endanger inner security.
Knothe has no problem with the glass-cased administration enacted by the SSW, SPD and the Greens. He says he will let Scientology have a look "in the generally accessible documents." Folders concerning citizen inquiries or former members, of course, remain closed. Scientology has to be treated as any other association or citizen: "the law does not divide good and evil, green or white."
In the three industry and trade chambers in the north, there are complaints about the far-reaching access law and and a search has been going on for possible written material on Scientology - so far in vain.
Scientology has been recognized as a church in Sweden. That will be decided in Denmark at the end of March. Since Scientology has its European headquarters in Denmark, that decision is especially important (ubi)
Data Security Commissioner refuses video surveillance
Installation of cameras said to amount to a capitulation to crime - Brandenburg data security report presented.
March 9, 2000
by Klaus Dieter Eule
Potsdam - In the dispute about tightening up the Brandenburg law on the mission of the police, Alexander Dix, State Data Security Commissioner, has spoken out clearly against planned video surveillance of public places. "That sort of observation would only serve to make citizens insecure," he said yesterday in Potsdam.
He said the installation of cameras would amount to a capitulation by the police to crime. In the meantime, the video surveillance, favored by the CDU, has been cause of a violent coalition dispute. Werner-Siegwart Schippel, interior political spokesman of the SPD state assembly faction, demanded that Interior Minister Joerg Schoenbohm (CDU) not carry things too far. He said the meaning and purpose of such a surveillance was controversial. In response, CDU Interior expert Sven Petke warned that Brandenburg, if it did not approve of video surveillance, would be an obstacle to it nationwide, since it has since been in use in SPD ruled states.
And he, countered Dix, had the impression that, in the CDU, video surveillance was regarded as a "patent recipe." He said it was extremely doubtful whether it could actually reduce criminality.
At the same time the Data Security Commissioner warned of doing away with the files access law. For two years, Brandenburgers have been entitled, by law, to access the documents in agency file cabinets, as long as public and private interests were not affected by that. Dix, "If the law were to be breached, I would not rule out a lawsuit up to the State Constitutional Court."
After the Scientology sect also announced it wanted access to files, the coalition faction of SPD and CDU reversed engines. They made a case that, in the future, files should only be opened to applicants who could show a justifiable interest. "That contradicts Article 21 of the State Constitution," is Dix's opinion. That was said to guarantee an unrestricted right to file access. The Commissioner wants to strengthen the law and has even presented his own suggestions. Among them are a set time limit of one month to notify the applicant. "We should not give people the idea that their applications are just sitting around at the agencies," urged Dix.
At the same time he pointed out several cases last year in which the rules of data security in Brandenburg were brashly violated. In one apartment, video cameras were installed on the stairs so that their signals could be received on special channels on televisions. By doing that, all the residents of the building could see exactly when the neighbors came out of their doors and what was happening in the entrance halls. A prisoner complained that institutional clothing with name tags which he had given to a foreign company for washing had been misplaced. In doing that, he said he had become known by name in his environment outside the institution. And the police also made an unforgivable error last year in their first big eavesdropping operation: data from an uninvolved third party was forwarded to a police station by a hidden video camera. All transgressions had been redressed, according to Dix.
BM Potsdam - The applications of the Scientology sect at the Revenue and Interior Ministries as well as the State Chancellory may unleash a political debate. The opinion of several parliamentarians from the SPD and CDU that the 1998 File Access Law contains a danger of misuse was contradicted by Data Security Commissioner Alexander Dix. He told the Berliner Morgenpost that data is broadly protected with the law. The supporter of free information access wants to submit a proposal to Parliament for modifications of the law which would amount to an extension of it. He is arguing for a time limit in which such applications must be worked by the administration. At the state level, there have been about a hundred applications for file access. The application of the Scientology sect was legitimate, said Dix. Nevertheless he said he understood the desire of the state government to have the sect detail its inquiry.
Scientology wants access to government files
February 25, 2000 Der Tagesspiegel
Process has triggered debate on liberal access rights - data security specialists reject argument
Calling upon Brandenburg Constitutional Basic rights, the Scientology sect wants general file access to government documents. Vice-Administration speaker Manfred Fueger verified that Scientology had filed applications at the end of 1999 with three ministries - finance, interior and state chancellory. The state administration see no method of basically refusing such desires, but still has asked for clarification for the applications in a letter of response. "There has been no reaction to our letter yet," said Fueger. The process has triggered a debate in the administration coalition as to whether the document access law should be strengthened. The PDS, State Data Security Commissioner Alexander Dix, and even SPD politicians, like SPD legal expert Peter Muschalla, have opposed this move.
Constitutional Security chief Heiner Wegesin affirmed for the Tagesspiegel newspaper that constitutional Security federal and state offices were already familiar with the exploitation of the document access law by the Scientology sect, which is under surveillance. The very extensive Brandenburg regulations could make things easier for them, whereby, until now, Constitutional Security had no indications of increased activity in Brandenburg by Scientology. In the last Constitutional Security report, only "individual persons" were mentioned as being active in the state for the sect. In 1997, Brandenburg - despite resistance from business, communities, and even other German states - opened up its official files to all citizens.
With the background of the Scientology operation, CDU faction interior political spokesman Sven Petke spoke out in favor of restricting the danger of misuse of the data access law by "politically motivated requests." However, he said, there was no reason to hurry about it. "One would have to keep that under consideration," CDU Interior Minister Joerg Schoenbohm also said. But even SPD faction chief Gunter Fritsch said the current regulation was being "too generous," as proved by the Scientology inquiry. He made a case for a procedure whereby files could be accessed only by those who could show a "justifiable interest."
"Any further restriction of the right would lead to a Constitutional legal problem," warned Alexander Dix, the State Data Security Commissioner for file access and data security. The file access law, he said, had "double and triple security" built in to prevent misuse. For instance, files which contained company data, government memos or personal date could not be released. Dix confirmed that there had also been unrest in the Brandenburg Finance Ministry because of the inquiries Scientology made. Staff members had expressed concern that their names could be accessible to the organization from the files.
Dix said that would have to be taken seriously. The law allows, however, the names be blacked out. "There are practical considerations." However, access to records could not be refused. He said the problem need not be dramatized, because so far they were dealing only with individual incidents. "I cannot recognize a trend." SPD legal expert Peter Muschalla warned of "hasty actions": he said the goal of the SPD state assembly faction had been to make a law for transparency to protect businesses, private citizens and offices from abuse. The theme had been discussed in the legal committee. PDS Interior expert Michael Schumann was also strictly against an amendment to the law. "This would put the article of the Constitution in question," he said.
Usually EU citizens have the right to
- ask companies what data they have stored
- request correction
- approve any "sale" of data
So, in all likelihood, this law also applies to Scientology.]
Railway pays damages for forwarding of personal data
July 8, 1999
Kassel - the Deutsche Bahn AG (German Railway) will have to pay a family 2,000 marks damages because the company passed on the family's customer data. The settlement was reached on Thursday before the Kassel State Court. The Bahn had forwarded data which it had gotten in an application for a pass to the Citibank in the USA.
According to a statement by the Humanistic Union citizen rights organization, which supported the family's complaint, the payment of damages for a violation of the basic right of informational self-determination is "new territory in the German federal legal landscape." The result of the precedent-setting complaint will contribute to the strengthening of data protection on the whole.