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Human rights: UN body reprimands German NetzDG and state Trojans

The UN body that monitors the implementation of and compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights gives Germany mixed marks. In its report for the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, the Human Rights Committee is concerned about “the far-reaching powers” that the Bundestag introduced in 2017 with the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) ​​in the fight against potentially illegal or abusive content.

The UN auditors complain that the legislature has assigned “the responsibility for removing such content to the social media companies” without judicial control. This restricts access to legal remedies in cases where the nature of the contributions is controversial. This could “have a deterrent effect on the expression of opinion on the Internet”.

Germany should recently published report ensure that all restrictions on online comments provided for in the Network Enforcement Act are strictly in line with the requirements for freedom of expression in the civil pact. The committee recommends “revising the law” to allow for better judicial oversight and legal options.

Previously, the former UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye had repeatedly and sharply criticized the NetzDG. Civil rights organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) complainthat the law has not really led to less hatred and threats on the Internet, but has instead already served at least 13 states as a blueprint for sometimes even more drastic measures.

In principle, the UN Committee welcomes the information submitted by the Federal Government on the political commitment at a high level to the fight against “hate crimes and hate speech”. He refers, for example, to the established cabinet committee against right-wing extremism and racism.

Nevertheless, the inspectors find persistent reports of hate speech, including verbal attacks, in the political discourse as well. This also applies to reports “of various forms of hate crimes against people of African descent, LGBTI people, Sinti and Roma, Muslims, persons of Jewish faith, refugees and migrants, including violent attacks and the desecration of religious sites”.

The experts recommend collecting more data on this phenomenon and introducing effective countermeasures and penalties. Awareness-raising efforts should be stepped up with the aim of “promoting respect for human rights and tolerance of diversity” and preventing stereotypes.

The committee is also concerned about “the far-reaching powers of surveillance” for the police and all intelligence agencies, which include covert online searches and the “hacking of encrypted communications data”. He is particularly concerned that the law for the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) of 2016 “provides for a comprehensive and undifferentiated mass and targeted surveillance of extraterritorial communication”. Relevant reforms are praiseworthy. However, there are still open questions as to whether the provisions are compatible with EU law. Furthermore, the envisaged independent judicial supervision is apparently not yet fully functional.

The local legal framework for the fight against terrorism by federal and state law enforcement authorities also goes too far for the auditors. For example, they object to the authority to take control measures against people who are viewed as “potential attackers”. They are concerned with the use of electronic ankle cuffs for “endangered persons”, bans on communication and social contacts, telecommunications monitoring and extended periods for police custody.

According to the report, the State party has also provided insufficient information on the results of the measures taken to ensure that military aid does not “contribute to the use of drones outside recognized conflict zones and lead to civilian casualties”. The inspectors are addressing the use of the Ramstein Air Force Base and “real-time data transmission on German territory”.


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