The amendment to the law allows for asylum decisions and court rulings to be stored in full in the Central Register of Foreigners. In some cases, this contains highly personal information on the history of flight, political persecution, mental health or sexual orientation. Both the intelligence services and the police have unrestricted access to this information. In addition, the police can obtain group information from the Central Register of Foreigners, whereby the register displays all persons with the characteristics they are looking for.
With about 26 million personal data sets, the Central Register of Foreigners is one of the most extensive automated registers of the public administration. Every person living in Germany without German citizenship is registered. More than 16,000 public authorities and organisations with more than 150,000 individual users have access to the Central Register of Foreigners, including not only the immigration authorities but also police and prosecution authorities, intelligence services, job centres, youth welfare offices and courts. In 2020 alone, authorities carried out an average of 260,000 data queries in the Central Register of Foreigners each working day. Refugees are particularly affected, since their biometric data as well as information on health, education and family are stored in addition to basic personal data and information on residence status.
The Central Register of Foreigners violates fundamental constitutional and European data protection standards. Moreover, this affects a particularly vulnerable group of people who are seeking protection from war and persecution. We urgently need a decision from Karlsruhe that clarifies the constitutional limits for the storage of refugees' data.
The constitutional complaint was drafted by Matthias Bäcker, Professor of Public Law and Information Law with a focus on data protection law at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Lawyer Matthias Lehnert is representing the plaintiffs before the administrative court.
GFF Study: The Central Register of Foreigners - A Data Collection Out of Control
The GFF study "The Central Register of Foreigners - A Data Collection Out of Control" shows that the Central Register of Foreigners has developed into a huge and almost uncontrolled data monster in recent years. The rights of those affected have been neglected in the process. Mechanisms to protect particularly sensitive data hardly exist. The potential for abuse is enormous given that hundreds of thousands of government employees have access to that much data, some of which is highly sensitive. Not only is there a danger that authorities will make far too extensive use of data retrieval. In the worst case, data such as address, sexual orientation or political beliefs can end up in the hands of racist criminals or persecuting states, putting the lives of those affected in danger. It is very difficult for individuals to obtain insights into the data stored about them: the application procedure is characterised by high hurdles, the answers take a long time to arrive and the scope of the information does not correspond to legal requirements.
GFF legal opinion and constitutional complaint: Central Register of Foreigners Act violates constitutional and European data protection provisions
In an expert opinion prepared for the GFF in January 2022 and in the constitutional complaint submitted for the GFF in October 2023, Prof. Dr. Matthias Bäcker concludes that large parts of the Central Register of Foreigners Act violate the fundamental right to informational self-determination, the prohibition of discrimination and European data protection law. In particular, the collection of data is not limited to what is necessary and proportionate. Storing asylum decisions in full text violates the principle of proportionality in a particularly blatant manner. Generally, full text decisions are not necessary and regularly contain data of high sensitivity: they describe the psychological condition, sexual orientation or ideological and political beliefs of the individual concerned.
The principle that data may only under strict conditions be used for purposes other than those for which they were initially collected is also violated: public authorities access the data collection not only for migration administration, but also for numerous other purposes. For example, security authorities use it for danger prevention and the benefit administration for checking claims. Due to the exchange of data with security authorities, police authorities, public prosecutors' offices and secret services can access all data in the Central Register of Foreigners. The only requirement that needs to be satisfied is that the data access is necessary for the fulfilment of their tasks. Data retrieval is not limited to particularly high-ranking legal interests, but can also take place for the prosecution or prevention of petty offences. There is no need for the police to demonstrate a specific basis for their investigation or a concrete danger. Vague suspicions are therefore sufficient to retrieve extensive personal data on a person and their family and social environment.
The use of a central data collection for the purposes of danger prevention and fighting crime is also an unconstitutional unequal treatment on the basis of nationality, without there being an objective reason for it. Fighting crime and preventing danger - unlike migration administration - are not generally related to nationality. By the far-reaching information transmission powers, the legislature reinforces the widespread racist prejudice that there is a connection between criminality and national origin. In fact, the crime rate - for Germans and foreigners - is closely linked to economic and social conditions.
The GFF is planning strategic lawsuits
The German government is continuing to massively expand the Central Register of Foreigners, completely disregarding the fundamental requirements of data protection, especially with regard to refugees. The next expansion of the register by the federal government is already imminent. The lax handling of refugees' data and the increasing curtailment of their basic rights is unconstitutional. There must not be second-class protection of data and fundamental rights in Germany.
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