Civil rights and liberties extend beyond borders: Germany’s highest Constitutional Court declares that the Federal Intelligence Service’s practice of worldwide mass surveillance is unconstitutional
On May 19, 2020, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) issued a landmark decision, which strengthens international human rights and freedom of the press. Following a complaint filed by GFF, together with an alliance of media organizations, the Court declared that the The Federal Intelligence Service’s (BND) practice of monitoring of worldwide internet traffic is unconstitutional. In its decision, the Federal Constitutional Court made clear that German state authorities—including the BND—are bound by the federal Constitution at all times, in all locations, and regardless of whether the target is a German or a foreign national.
Corona and Fundamental Rights
Many of the measures implemented in Germany to contain the corona pandemic restrict fundamental rights. In our Online Q&A, we monitor developments, answer frequent questions and provide legal assessments.
The GFF (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte / Society for Civil Rights) is a Berlin-based non-profit NGO founded in 2015. Its mission is to establish a sustainable structure for successful strategic litigation in the area of human and civil rights in Germany and Europe.
GFF’s initial cases focus on protecting privacy, freedom of information and freedom of the press against state intrusion, and on defending equal freedom for all. These are the realms that GFF’s founders are most active in and that currently present both particularly critical challenges as well as litigation opportunities. GFF’s longer-term mission is to help protect and strengthen human and civil rights in general by legal means, thus permanently improving human and civil rights law all over Europe.
German courts have developed a tradition of upholding civil rights against state intrusion, especially in the area of data protection. The Federal Constitutional Court has achieved an excellent reputation as a human rights court, and its jurisprudence resonates with other courts across Europe. With the added advantage of a relatively low cost of litigation, Germany is a great location for this mission.
Strategic litigation is an indispensable instrument for the targeted enforcement of human and civil rights. While it has been successfully employed for decades by our US partner organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it is still hardly used in Germany. However, precedent also plays a crucial role with the German Federal Constitutional Court and the European courts.
With its partners, GFF goes to court to protect human and civil rights in Germany and Europe.
Three elements of our work are crucial for our success:
- a long-term strategy for civil and human rights,
- a careful selection of our cases in light of this strategy and
- the right plaintiffs.
A State that Breaks the Law Cannot Protect it
GFF pursues strategic litigtion with a clear focus: We strengthen civil and human rights against state intrusion.
For example, GFF defends the right to privacy, freedom of information and the freedom of the press against unjustified interference. To that end, it brings suitable plaintiffs in contact with excellent legal experts in order to jointly bring rights violations to court.
At the same time, as an NGO, GFF is working to establish a durable structure in order to be able to also apply the instrument of strategic litigation to other rights, such as freedom from discrimination.
Proceeding with a Plan, Reliability and Staying Power
“Big” cases need to be carefully built—this requires the knowhow and expertise of specialized lawyers and clear criteria for selecting cases, plaintiffs and courts. Such cases need time and therefore also the type of long-term structures that GFF is establishing, building an office for litigation, public relations work and fundraising.
GFF is the organization for substainably successful strategic litigation on civil rights in Germany. In order to be efficient and effective, to join know-how and forces, GFF works closely with a network of established NGOs, associations and activists. We bring together actors for human rights at the European level and work with especially experienced teams from the United States.
GFF is pioneering strategic litigation for civil rights in Germany. Therefore, it is part of our strategy to raise broad awareness for this topic. In the media, GFF promotes reporting that is correct on the facts and gives civil rights the center stage they deserve.
This requires a close network and constructive engagement both with big media players and with specialized editorial offices and organizations such as Netzpolitik.org, Reporters Without Borders and Chaos Computer Club.
Every Case Can Be a Success for Civil Rights
Winning a case is an obvious factor for success. But risky cases, too, can carry opportunities for human and civil rights. Previous losses can be an important basis for later success in higher instances. Moreover, every case—whatever the outcome—is an opportunity to engage the public on human rights issues, to inform citizens via the media and to convince them of the importance of the issue. Even spectacular defeats for civil rights can lay the ground for progress, if they are accompanied by careful public relations work.
Taking these factors into account, GFF strategically selects its cases, plaintiffs and partners and supports them through legal expertise and active, information oriented campaigning. This approach guarantees that the case not only addresses isolated legal issues, but that it has a sustainable effect for human and civil rights both at the legal and at the societal level.
Litigating to Protect Rights: Our Cases
GFF’s cases focus on the protection of privacy, freedom of information and freedom of the press against state intrusion. GFF is also committed to equality and therefore to combating any form of discrimination, especially gender discrimination and discrimination against minorities such as handicapped people and refugees.
Below you will find information in English on our most important cases:
- Study “Invading Refugees’ Phones – Digital Forms of Migration Control in Germany and Europe” and legal action against the German migration authority’s procedure to read out and evaluate asylum seekers’ mobile phones.
- Constitutional complaint against surveillance under the 2016 BND law: Constitutional Court hears case against controversial snooping law (press release of January 8, 2020); summary of our press release of December 2019 announcing the oral hearing at the German Constitutional Court in January 2020
- Constitutional complaint against strategic mass surveillance under the so-called “G 10” Act
- Support of strategically relevant transparency law suits, many of which were successful, incl. one victory for transparency in Hamburg in early 2020 (statement by Hausfeld, our partner law firm for this case)
- Constitutional complaint against an anti-whistleblower provision in the Criminal Code
- Support of a female journalist working with the German public broadcaster ZDF in her Equal Pay lawsuit
- Constitutional complaint against the large-scale use of spyware by the police
- Amicus Curiae Brief to the Federal Administrative Court regarding the banning of the Internet platform linskunten.indymedia
- Constitutional complaints against the excessive expansion of police powers in police laws of several German states, including Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg
- Lawsuit against the Federal Bar Association over security deficiencies in beA, a mandatory electronic mailbox system for attorneys
- Constitutional complaint against the automated retrieval of biometric passport photographs
- Constitutional complaint against transmission of plain data of all citizens for test run of 2021 census
- Support of Hermann Theisen, peace activist facing criminal prosecution over his call for whistleblowing directed against illegal arms exports
- Lawsuit against video surveillance in the town of Passau
- Legal action against the mass processing of passenger data – NoPNR: The district court in Cologne, Germany, referred our cases to the European Court of Justice in January 2020.
- Criminal Lawsuit against Munich companies for illegal exports of spyware to Turkey
On the following cases, information is available in German only:
- Constitutional complaint against unduly strict requirements in the Transparency Act of Rhineland-Palatinate
- Constitutional complaint against surveillance authorities of the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution
- Amicus Curiae Brief to the US Supreme Court in United States of America v. Microsoft
- Support of a gynecologist in her lawsuit under paragraph 219a of the Criminal Code prohibiting doctors from informing about abortion services
- Constitutional Complaint against discrimination of the mentally ill
- Support of an environmental activist in her lawsuit to acquire information on surveillance activities conducted by the police of Lower-Saxony against her
- Emergency appeal against overly restrictive decree of the German Federal Police regarding the carrying of everyday objects
- Support of the complaint of a refugee against illegal room searches in a reception facility in Ellwangen
- Support of two former members of the Leipzig Integration Advisory Board who had to give up their seats due to a questionable legal change in the Advisory Board regulations
- Support of two students who had been convicted for saving food from garbage containers
- Constitutional complaints against the excessive expansion of police powers in Hessen police law
For further information on our cases, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The GFF Team
Ulf Buermeyer is President of GFF and a judge in criminal cases at the Berlin Superior Court. He holds an LL.M. from Columbia Law School and a PhD from the University of Frankfurt/Main. He is a fellow of the Centre for Internet and Human Rights (CIHR) at Europa-Universität Viadrina (Frankfurt/Oder). His scholarly work focuses on constitutional law, especially the freedom of information and telecommunication and control of personal data, and on criminal law. His PhD thesis dealt with informational self-determination in correctional facilities. Together with journalist Philip Banse he hosts a weekly podcast on politics, “Lage der Nation” (State of the Nation).
Nora Markard is Vice President of GFF and a Junior Professor for Public and International Law and Global Constitutionalism at the University of Hamburg. She studied Law and International Relations in Berlin, Paris and London and was a visiting fellow at the University of Michigan and at Columbia Law School. She holds a PhD from Humboldt University Berlin and an MA from King’s College London. She has published widely on international and constitutional law issues, her PhD on war refugees won the 2012 Humboldt prize. She is a co-founder of the Humboldt Law Clinic Human and Fundamental Rights and the director of the Refugee Law Clinic Hamburg.
Malte Spitz is GFF’s Secretary General and a writer, civil rights activist, politician and a consultant on data protection. In his 2014 book “Was macht ihr mit meinen Daten?” (“What are you doing with my data?”), he investigated the way public agencies and corporations mine private data. He is a member of several Green party committees and spokesman of the federal working group on Media and Internet Policy. His political activism covers issues such as media and internet policy and civil rights. He is actively involved in international Green networks and speaks on data protection, digital change in society and the economy as well as internet policy.
Boris Burghardt is member oft he GFF board and visiting professor for criminal law at the University of Hamburg. He studied law in Vienna, Berlin and Salamanca. He received his habilitation at the Humboldt University of Berlin, after serving several years as research assistant of Prof. Dr. Gerhard Werle. His research focus is German and International criminal law, with special interest in law philosophy and contemporary legal history. He is member of the „Arbeitskreis Völkerstrafrecht“ and of the Association Internationale de Droit Pénale.
Dr. Bijan Moini, M.A., is an attorney (Rechtsanwalt) and GFF’s legal counsel. He studied law and political science in Munich and Paris and completed internships in Singapore, Antananarivo and Beijing. He later received his doctor’s degree with a thesis on the constitutionality of sex offender registries, supervised by Hans-Jürgen Papier. After completing his legal clerkship in Berlin and Hong Kong, he worked for three years as a lawyer in a Berlin-based law firm focused on commercial law and litigation, at which he also supported the set-up of a pro bono asylum law practice. After quitting his job he wrote a novel and started supporting the GFF on a voluntary basis.
Julia Reda is a copyright expert and project lead at GFF for control ©. Between 2014 and 2019, Julia was a Member of the European Parliament, where she focused her work on the EU copyright directive and the regulation of online platforms. Julia is a Shuttleworth Fellow and a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. She comments on European and international digital policy in her column “Edit Policy” at the leading German tech news portal heise online and as @Senficon on Twitter. Julia holds an M.A. in political science and communications science from Mainz University, Germany.
Anna Livia Mattes (Twitter) is Head of Fundraising and Office Manager at GFF. She studied philosophy and political science in Tübingen and Palermo. Anna has worked for several clubs and associations in various functions and accompanied them in the development and professionalization process – especially in event management, membership structure and internal communication. Most recently, she worked for the association TERRE DES FEMMES and for the German Debating Society.
Lea Beckmann is a fully qualified lawyer and joined the GFF legal team in 2018. She is responsible for the coordination of and substantive work on the procedures of GFF. After studying law in Heidelberg, Strasbourg and Berlin, she moved to Tunis for a year. In Tunis, as a Carlo Schmid scholarship holder, she worked on projects on prison reform and the Transitional Justice process after the revolution. She then completed her legal practice course with clerkships at the Federal Foreign Office, the European Center for Constitutional Rights (ECCHR) and the International Criminal Court. Lea also worked as a research assistant in the public law department of a major law firm. Most recently, she worked as a researcher and policy advisor at the German Institute for Human Rights. The focus of her work there lay on human rights and mental health.
Sarah Lincoln is a fully qualified lawyer and joined the legal team at GFF in February 2019. She is responsible for the legal assessment and coordination of cases. During her legal clerkship she supported the Ecuadorian human rights organization CEDHU in strategic litigation. As research assistant and in voluntary counselling she focused on migration and asylum law. Before she joined the GFF team, Sarah worked as a human rights officer at Brot für die Welt for several years. In cooperation with national and international partners she documented cases of human rights abuses by transnational corporations and developed litigation and advocacy strategies.
Luisa Podsadny is a student assistant at GFF in communications, fundraising and project management since 2018. She is studying Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at Sciences Po Paris, where she is currently writing her master’s thesis on international intellectual property law and the right to food. Before that, she was Robert Bosch Foundation fellow at the German-Kazakh University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and studied International Relations (B.A.) in Dresden and Bishkek.
Christian Thönnes has been a student assistant at GFF in legal research and communications since November 2017. He studies law at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where he participates in the European Law School. He previously worked as a parliamentary assistant to Bettina Bähr-Losse, a member of the Bundestag, and studied International Relations (B.A.) in Dresden.
Franziska Boashie Adadé has been a student assistant at GFF in the office management since November 2018. She studies law at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Franziska previously worked in the social advisory office of the umbrella organization of Hamburg’s international youth associations and studied at the Bucerius Law School.
Julia Naumann is our external contacts for press and public relations. Nina Tesenfitz handles the requests for equal pay claims.
A Strong Network: International Support
GFF pioneers strategic litigation as an appropriate legal means to improve civil rights legislation in Germany, but also across Europe. By closing ranks with like-minded organizations, GFF creates synergies and concentrates the relevant forces from the civil societies in different European countries.
European partners include Amnesty International (Berlin/London), Bits of Freedom (Amsterdam), Chaos Computer Club (CCC, Hamburg), Digitale Gesellschaft e.V. (digiges, Berlin), the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR, Berlin), European Digital Rights – EDRi (Brussels), the Humboldt Law Clinic Internetrecht (HLCI, Berlin), La Quadrature du Net (Paris), Netzpolitik.org (Berlin), Privacy International (London) and Reporters Without Borders (Berlin/Paris).
Press contact: GFF Office Manager Anna Mattes at email@example.com.
Our contact person for press and public relations is Julia Naumann.
Julia Naumann is the managing director of the communication agency better nau (www.betternau.de), where she handles public relations matters in collaboration with a colleague, Katja Bettermann. Previously, she worked as a journalist and press officer. As a student, Julia studied political science. She worked for six years at the daily newspaper taz, after which she spent ten years as a capital city correspondent and editor at the news agency Agence France-Presse in Berlin. After leaving AFP, she served as press spokesperson for Amnesty International Germany for more than four years.
Nina Tesenfitz handles press requests regarding the equal pay law suit that GFF is currently supporting. For inquiries relating to that matter, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nina Tesenfitz worked for several years in the public relations department of Amnesty International Germany and as press spokeswoman for Anne Will. She then established her own communications agency. As a student at the University of Hamburg and the Humboldt University in Berlin, Nina concentrated on the social sciences. While pursuing her university studies, Nina worked in the main editorial office and the Berlin office of “Spiegel”. She is co-author, together with Roger Willemsen, of the book “Hier spricht Guantánamo”.
Please find our current press releases here (in German).
Finances and Transparency
- Funding Structure
- Organizational Structure
- What Do We Need Funding For?
- Financial Transparency
The GFF (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte / Society for Civil Rights) was founded on September 14, 2015 in Berlin as a registered association and granted non-profit status in 2016. In November 2016, we publicly started our work with an interview in the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”.
- Funding Structure
Our funding structure is based on three pillars: supporting memberships, individual donations, and institutional donations (in particular, from foundations).
We actively seek supporting memberships and donations from individuals. A high proportion of our funding comes from donations from individuals, ensuring that we can work independently and sustainably in the long term. Supporting memberships are particularly important for us because they allow for financial predictability and continuity, which are crucial for lengthy legal procedures. As of December 2018, about 1,500 people have become supporting members of GFF, and hundreds more have donated. A supporting membership starts at 90 Euro per year, and for people in training (study, apprenticeship and school) at 36 Euro per year.
We are very grateful for the tremendous encouragement we have received so far! We see this as an affirmation of our strategic goals and feel highly motivated to continue to defend civil liberties in court. Supporting memberships are the most important contribution to our independence and the sustainable financing of our work.”
Dr. Ulf Buermeyer, President of GFF
When we began our activities at the end of 2016, we applied for financial support from various organizations and submitted applications to foundations to finance the first legal proceedings. Among the first sponsors in 2016 were the Chaos Computer Club with a donation of 15,000 EUR and netzpolitik.org, who donated 10,000 EUR. In addition, the Open Society Foundations supported us with a total of 25,000 USD in filing and pursuing a constitutional complaint from 2015 to 2017. Also, the bridge foundation provided 14,000 EUR for a public relations campaign and for our work in the area of freedom of information.
To sustain our organization financially, we will continue to rely on additional funding from foundations. Since July 1, 2017, the Bewegungsstiftung foundation has provided us with a basic grant of 50,000 EUR over a period of 24 months. The Open Society Foundations has supported us with an all-purpose grant of over 80,000 US dollars for the years 2017 and 2018 to use as GFF sees fit. The Omidyar Network/Luminate is supporting our work during 2018 and 2019 with 250,000 US dollars.
- Organizational Structure
The board of GFF serves on a voluntary basis and, despite intensive involvement in the work of our cases, members receive no remuneration for their work. GFF may modify this practice in accordance with the bylaws of the association. Should we decide to change our practice in this regard, we will provide notice on this site.
In order to ensure the long-term success of GFF, it was indispensable to establish an office and employ permanent staff. Without such an organizational and staff infrastructure, we could not carry out our work. To fulfill our professional commitments in accordance with our objectives requires, among other things, personnel for legal work, for cooperation with our partner organizations, for public relations work, for fundraising, and for strategy and organizational development.
Thanks to the financing structure described above, we were able to rent office space in summer 2017 and hire our first employees. Seven to eight people now work in our office, including interns and legal trainees. Currently these are: a part-time secretary general (50%), an in-house lawyer (70%), two litigators, one office manager and fundraiser (100%), and three student assistants. In addition, temporary associates support us with communications, press and public relations, and graphics. Specialized companies, which we have chosen according to the best price-quality ratio, handle our accounting (Schomerus), payroll (Lohn24), and IT support (KicksApps).
Our claim is to do legal, strategic and communicative work at a very high level. We usually take legal action against public bodies that can access many times the resources of GFF.”
Malte Spitz, Secretary General of GFF
Adding professional staff necessitated a significant budget increase over and above the regular expenses for rent and salaries. Above all, however, it has enabled us to broaden the scope of GFF’s work, not only in terms of the number of cases we are working on, but also the range of topics. With the help of our expanded budget, we are currently developing additional ways to involve supporting members and interested parties in the work and strategic development of GFF.
- What Do We Need Funding For?
Funds are primarily used for initiating and pursuing to completion strategic lawsuits aimed at strengthening and advancing fundamental civil and human rights. We also use our funds to assist the office and the board in monitoring GFF and its work and assuring transparency. All funds are therefore used – in accordance with GFF’s bylaws – to promote the basic rights that are essential to a democratic government and civil society.
The costs of legal proceedings undertaken by GFF vary greatly. Depending on the case, costs may include the court costs based on the value in dispute, the costs for representing the plaintiffs supported by GFF in court, staff and office costs, and the costs of other case-related work (e.g., press and public relations).
When we win a case, the opposing party covers the court costs and part of the expenses for our legal representation. When our party loses a case, we must cover these costs ourselves, as well as the costs of any legal representation of the opposing party. This results in a cost risk of between a few thousand and several tens of thousands of Euros, depending on the circumstances of the particular case. We try to minimize this risk by only undertaking cases we believe we will win. Unfortunately, we cannot predict the outcome of any case with certainty, and even in the event of a victory, we have to bear the non-refundable part of our costs (i.e., share of legal representation and internal costs).
It is extremely important for us to build up substantial financial reserves. For instance, on occasion when we must be able to decide quickly and on short notice whether we want to take a case further, thus incurring additional costs. To be prepared for such eventualities, we must build up and maintain our financial reserves over the entire duration of the legal proceeding, which can sometimes last up to ten years. In the medium term, we aim to reach and maintain a constant litigation reserve of 100,000 EUR to 150,000 EUR. If, as anticipated, we win a case, the funds obtained as a result of the victory will be used for new cases or transferred to the litigation reserve.
As part of our goal of putting GFF on a firmer professional footing, we moved into office spaces in Berlin-Mitte near the main station. The space is relatively inexpensive in terms of location and size (150m²), with rental costs of approx. 2,000 EUR per month (approx. 13 Euro/sqm). One room has so far been sublet to a fellow NGO. Last year, we renovated the office, enlarging the space and purchasing the necessary furniture. In addition, we invested further in our digital infrastructure (computers, servers, high-performance secure Internet).
It is important to us that GFF provides a professional working environment and equitable compensation. We are committed to establishing and maintaining fair and equitable conditions of employment at GFF and to avoiding conditions leading to “precarious employment” or self-exploitation. Our wages are therefore adjusted to align with those in public service.
The same applies to the lawyers and attorneys representing us in court. We are grateful for their support and their willingness to accept cases on a pro bono basis. However, we also want to be able to pay fair compensation for excellent work so that the legal proceedings are conducted in a highly professional and effective manner. The most important criterion is of course the quality of the work. Occasions may arise where, in individual legal proceedings, members of the association are commissioned to act as authorized representatives in the matter. This is likely to occur if special expertise is available and we expect that the assistance of such expertise would be particularly advantageous in the matter.
A central concern of GFF is the promotion of strategic litigation for human rights in Germany. We want to raise awareness of the significance of the fundamental civil and human rights that we defend in court. To this end, we work closely with non-governmental organizations and scientific institutions, among others, and thus support science and research in this field. The latter is also a purpose of GFF under its bylaws. This enables us to make direct contact with students, researchers, and scholars who can support our work through internships or legal clerkships. Costs involved cover the organization of public events and the support of smaller research or outreach projects, as well as the internships themselves, which are remunerated with 400 EUR per month. In this way, we are training our future cooperation partners or even – we hope – future employees.
Since our field of work is at times highly sensitive and given that our complainants and partner organizations rightly expect a high level of confidentiality, we have set up a largely independent IT infrastructure. This enables us to independently control our systems and ensures a high level of IT security. However, it is also associated with increased investment requirements and high basic costs (e.g. own servers, own fiber optic connection). In 2018, we undertook extensive renovations in order to be able to use our office optimally while at the same time taking the necessary precautions to insure the security and confidentiality of our information.
- Financial Transparency
Before the public launch in November 2016, GFF’s business operations were manageable. The 2015 and 2016 financial statements were prepared, and we received the tax exemption for them. The first official financial year for GFF, therefore, was 2017, and revenues and expenditures for that year more faithfully reflect the situation of GFF. We are therefore providing the report of the auditor who reviewed our 2017 annual financial statements.
In addition, we have joined the Transparent Civil Society Initiative. We therefore are committed to keeping the following ten pieces of information up to date and making them available to the public.
Name, location, address, and year the organization was established
- Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V., Berlin, Hessische Str. 10 10115 Berlin
- Foundation year: 2015
Bylaws and information on the objectives of our organization
Information on tax concessions
- Our work qualifies for tax concessions since it falls under the “support of science and research, the support of consumer advice and consumer protection as well as the general support of the democratic state” according to the last notice of exemption received from the Tax Office for Corporations I, Berlin dated 23.03.2018.
- Scanned version of the notice of exemption.
Name and function of the main decision-makers
- Please find an overview of our executive board and additional active persons on our team page.
- We will publish the annual report online six to nine months after the end of the respective year.
Information on sources of funding
- Annual audit 2017 (in German)
Information on application of funds
- Annual audit 2017 (in German)
Corporate ties with third parties
Name of legal persons whose annual payments exceed 10 % of the total annual budget
- In 2017, the funding provided by Bewegungsstiftung/Stiftung Bridge and the Open Society Foundations exceeded 10% of the total annual budget. Other organizations that support our work are listed above or in the respective annual reports.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- Why found an organization for strategic litigation? Can’t other NGOs do that on the side?
- What is strategic litigation and what makes it “strategic”?
- Does GFF act as a plaintiff in its own cases?
- Is GFF a law firm?
- Who is behind GFF?
- How can I support GFF’s work?
- Is GFF a charity?
- Who funds GFF?
- Does GFF work with corporations and accept donations from them?
- Is GFF a politically partisan organization?
- Is GFF only active in Germany?
- Does GFF only work in its own name, or does it also participate in projects?
- Does GFF cooperate with law clinics?
- Does GFF use amicus briefs?
Why found an organization for strategic litigation? Can’t other NGOs do that on the side?
Strategic litigation is a specific legal tool that requires expertise and experience. For individual NGOs, it is usually not worth it having a specialized in-house legal practitioner. Moreover, procedures can take years, requiring long-term involvement and a durable structure. Effective litigation also calls for careful and precise communication in public relations work—nothing that can easily be done on the side. Therefore, we seek to offer a way for different NGOs to combine and coordinate their efforts by offering them a professional litigation platform. We are not trying to duplicate existing work; rather, for the majority of our cases, we cooperate with other NGOs. That way, we achieve the maximum success for the law: GFF contributes its specific expertise on strategic litgation, our partners contribute their experience with the respective issue.
What is strategic litigation and what makes it “strategic”?
Strategic litigation pursues cases in court in order to achieve goals beyond the individual case (click here to jump to our Strategy). The following procedure makes this type of litigation “strategic”:
- Ideal cases and plaintiffs as well as suitable forums are selected,
- long-term goals are pursued through a series of cases building onto one another,
- specialized legal experts proceed tactically in order to avoid errors,
- long-term cooperation with established NGOs and activists in Germany, Europe and around the globe creates synergies,
- and the law suits are complemented with targeted public relations work, mobilizing awareness for the underlying rights issues.
Does GFF act as a plaintiff in its own cases?
GFF supports law suits and sees them through. Usually, the plaintiffs are individuals who represent organizations fitting the case, or the organizations themselves. GFF has not yet acted as a plaintiff but offers legal, financial, organizational and PR support.
Is GFF a law firm?
No. GFF only coordinates, supports and finances cases. Our plaintiffs are represented by highly specialized attorneys and professors (German law professors have the right to represent clients in court).
Who is behind GFF?
GFF is run by its team and supported by its members and their contributions. GFF has around 30 members from all areas of politics, academia and civil society, including academics, writers, activists, journalists, and legal practitioners. See below for who funds GFF.
How can I support GFF’s work?
The easiest way to get involved is to donate to GFF or to become a sustaining member. If you have a case that is suitable for strategic litigation, please get in touch—we know how to do turn your case into a success for civil and human rights. If you are an attorney willing to represent our cases in court, please also email us: email@example.com, using encryption: PGP/GPG Key ID FA2C23A8 (Download).
Is GFF a charity?
According to its statute, GFF directly and exclusively pursues charitable goals. Our non-profit or charity status (Gemeinnützigkeit) is recognized under German law, such that donations are tax-exempt. GFF has also been admitted as an observer by European Digital Rights (EDRI), the association of NGOs working on digital civil rights in Europe.
Who funds GFF?
GFF’s work is funded by its members’ contributions, by its sustaining members and by donations (click here to see how you can support our work). Moreover, in its start-up phase, GFF has received contributions from a number of different NGOs and foundations, including Stiftung Bridge / Bewegungsstiftung and the Open Society Foundations. Our annual fiscal report will be published on this website.
Does GFF work with corporations and accept donations from them?
GFF focuses on cooperation with NGOs, activists and media. Depending on the case, a cooperation with a for-profit partner can be strategically valuable, e.g, in order to win corporate plaintiffs for a test case. GFF is open to donations from corporations, but will have to consider such offers case by case in order to avoid undue influence on its work.
Is GFF a politically partisan organization?
GFF is strictly non-partisan. Our mission is a commitment for our democracy, the civil rights in our Constitution, and human rights. GFF’s members include supporters of a number of different democratic parties as well as non-partisan activists.
Is GFF only active in Germany?
Unlike other NGOs who pursue a transnational approach, GFF primarily works on cases in Germany. However, GFF closely cooperates and networks with European and international partners. With our expertise, we will support rights-oriented litigation work in Europe and around the globe.
Does GFF only work in its own name, or does it also participate in projects?
GFF can work with other organizations on specific projects. For example, we are currently establishing a project on freedom of information claims together with the initiative “Frag’ den Staat” (Ask the State) which is part of the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany.
Does GFF cooperate with Law Clinics?
Yes! Legal Clinics offer students access to practical experience—something which is otherwise largely absent in German universities. Participating in research, drafting briefs and assisting with client relations, they can become involved in real cases and thereby develop a much richer understanding of the law, its impact and its challenges. GFF actively supports and promotes such ways of engaging students early on in civil and human rights issues, inter alia by cooperating with the Humboldt Law Clinic Internetrecht (HLCI).
Does GFF use amicus briefs?
Amicus curiae briefs have become a standard way of supplying the court with specific, relevant expertise in the United States. In Germany and across Europe, this instrument is not yet well established. GFF will promote this important tool for advancing civil and human rights litigation in Germany and Europe, supporting the work of cooperating organizations through its expertise and helping to raise the profile of selected cases.
Image credits: © Paul Wagner
Nora Markard, Ulf Buermeyer, Boris Burghardt, Bijan Moini, Anna Mattes, Luisa Podsadny, Christian Thönnes, Franziska Boashie, Pauline Weller, Sarah Lincoln, Lea Beckmann © Paul Wagner
Nina Tesenfitz © Debora Mittelstaedt
Title: © Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte/ Paul Lovis Wagner