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.
control ©: Copyright law and freedom of communication
We want to clarify the fundamental rights issues at stake in the conflict between freedom of communication and copyright law.
Civil rights and liberties extend beyond borders
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.
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.
The GFF’s current cases focus on protecting privacy, freedom of information and the press, and defending equal freedom for all. These areas present critical challenges to fundamental rights and therefore create opportunities for strategic litigation. The GFF’s long-term goal is to permanently improve the protection of human and civil rights in Europe.
The German courts have a history 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. The attitude of the German courts towards civil rights, coupled with the relatively low cost of litigation in Germany, makes Germany a great location for the GFF to pursue its mission.
Strategic litigation is an indispensable instrument that can be used to ensure that the government respects human and civil rights. While this tool has been successfully employed for almost a century by our US partner organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it is still hardly used in Germany. Since Germany is a civil law country, civil litigation is not as widely used as in common-law countries. However, precedent also plays a crucial role with the German Federal Constitutional Court: The decisions of the German Federal Constitutional Court are binding on all lower courts in Germany.
Three crucial elements of our work are:
- Having a long-term strategy for the protection civil and human rights;
- Selecting our cases carefully in light of that strategy; and
- Choosing the right plaintiffs.
A State that Breaks the Law Cannot Protect it
The GFF pursues strategic litigation with a clear focus: to protect civil and human rights against state intrusion. Among our most important aims are defending the right to privacy, promoting freedom of information, and protecting the freedom of the press against unjustified interference. In order to pursue these aims we support plaintiffs who wish to bring constitutional complaints against civil rights violations.
In addition, we are working to establish a sustainable structure for strategic litigation that can be used to protect other fundamental rights such as freedom from discrimination.
Carefully Constructed Cases, Reliability and Perseverance
“Big” cases need to be carefully constructed; this requires the know-how and expertise of specialized lawyers, as well as clear criteria for selecting cases, plaintiffs, and courts. It also takes time and requires the type of long-term frameworks for strategic litigation that we are creating.
The GFF is currently the only organization of its kind in Germany. In order to efficiently and effectively address critical fundamental rights issues in Germany, we have joined together with other know-how forces; we work closely with a network of established NGOs, civil society associations and activists. We bring together human rights advocates at the European level and also work together with experienced civil rights lawyers in the United States.
The GFF is at the forefront of strategic litigation for civil rights in Germany. Therefore, part of our strategy involves raising awareness around the topic. Regarding the media, we promote reporting that is factually correct and gives civil rights the focus they deserve. To this end, we seek a close relationship with big media players as well as specialized journalistic 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 measure of success; however, unsuccessful cases can also present opportunities for the advancement of human and civil rights. Previous losses can be an important steppingstone for later successes in higher instances. Moreover, every case—regardless of the outcome—creates an opportunity to engage with the public regarding human and civil rights issues, and to inform the public of the importance of the issue at stake. Even a spectacular loss can lay the ground for progress if it is accompanied by good press.
Considering these factors, we strategically select our cases, plaintiffs, and partners and support them through legal expertise and active, information-oriented campaigning. This approach guarantees that every case not only addresses isolated legal issues, but also has a sustainable effect on human and civil rights at both a legal and at the societal level.
Litigating to Protect Rights: Our Cases
The GFF’s cases focus on the protection of privacy, freedom of information, and freedom of the press against state intrusion. We are also committed to equality and 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) about some of our most important cases:
- Study “Shrinking Space in Germany, Shrinking Space in Europe”
- 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 inpolice 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
In addition, information on the following cases is available in German:
- 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 email@example.com.
The GFF Team
Ulf Buermeyer (Twitter) is GFF’s President & Legal Director. Prior to his employment at GFF, he served on the bench of Berlin’s Superior Court and clerked at both the Berlin State and the German Federal Constitutional 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) and a lecturer at Freie Universität Berlin. 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 Professor for International Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Münster. 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 former 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. Dr. Moini’s novel, Der Würfel, won the 2020 German Science Fiction Prize.
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 legal assessment and coordination of cases. 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 joined the GFF team in 2018 as a student assistant in the communications team, where she also assists with fundraising and project management. Luisa is studying Human Rights and Humanitarian Action at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and currently writing her master’s thesis on international intellectual property law and the right to food. Prior to beginning her master’s, Luisa was a Robert Bosch Foundation fellow at the German-Kazakh University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and studied International Relations (B.A.) in Dresden and Bishkek.
Nina Tesenfitz handles media requests for equal pay claims.
A Strong Network: International Support
The GFF is at the forefront of strategic litigation not only in Germany, but also across Europe. By working together with like-minded organizations, we create relationships with partner organizations within Europe and also overseas.
Our 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: Janina Zillekens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nina Tesenfitz handles press requests regarding the equal pay lawsuit that we are currently supporting. For inquiries relating the equal pay lawsuit please contact Nina at email@example.com.
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: annual donations of supporting members, one-term private donations, and institutional donations (especially those from foundations). Supporting members make regular contributions and thus allow us to secure long-term financing. We keep supporting members up to date on the latest developments in our work through our exclusive member newsletter.
We actively seek supporting memberships and donations from individuals, which ensure 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, both of which are crucial for lengthy legal procedures. As of Oktober 2021, approximately 4,000 people have become supporting members of the GFF, and hundreds more have donated. A supporting membership starts at 90 Euros per year, and for people in training (study, apprenticeship and school) at 36 Euros 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, chairman of the 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 Euros, and netzpolitik.org, with a donation of 10,000 Euros. In addition, the Open Society Foundations supported us—with a total of 25,000 US dollars—in filing and pursuing a constitutional complaint between 2015 and 2017. The Bridge Foundation provided 14,000 Euros towards a public relations campaign regarding our work in the area of freedom of information.
In order to sustain the 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 Euros over a period of 24 months. The Open Society Foundations provided us with an all-purpose grant of over 80,000 US dollars for the years 2017 to 2018. The Omidyar Network/Luminate supports our work with donations (250,000 US Dollars in 2018 and 2019, 300,000 US Dollars from March 2020 to March 2022). The Renewable Freedom Foundation donated 10,000 Euros in 2018, 2019, and 2020. In 2021 DuckDuckGo supported us with 25,000 US dollars for our work on privacy.
Furthermore, we receive funding for specific projects. The Shuttleworth Foundation supports our work in the area of access to knowledge, scientific freedom and fundamental rights issues related to copyright with a grant of 385,000 US Dollars in 2020 and 2021. For our project aimed at expanding the scope of civil society work, the Open Society Foundations in cooperation with the Open Society Initiative (OSF) for Europe (OSIFE) provided us with a grant of 150,000 US Dollars for the period November 2019 to April 2021. OSF and OSIFE also provided us with a grant of 70,000 US Dollars for the period March 2020 to March 2022 for our work in the area of whistleblowing. For our work to strengthen the rights of trans, inter and queer people, Dreilinden gGmbH provided us with a grant for the years 2020 to 2022. We also receive grants for individual procedures from the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF) or grants and donations from project partners.
- Organizational Structure
The GFF board serves on a voluntary basis; despite their intensive involvement in the GFF’s work, the board members receive no compensation for their work. We 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 a notice of such change on this site.
In order to ensure its long-term success, it was essential for us to establish an office and employ a permanent staff. Without such an organizational structure and staff to support our mission, it would not be possible for us to carry out our work. In order to fulfill our professional commitments in accordance with its objectives, we require, among other things, personnel for legal work, cooperation with partner organizations, public relations work, fundraising, and strategy and organizational development.
Due to the financial structure described above, we were able to rent office space in summer 2017 and to hire our first employees. We are now up to 15 people working in the office, including interns and legal trainees. The current positions occupied include: a secretary general, an in-house lawyer, four litigators, one office and fundraising manager, one public relations officer, and three student assistants. Most of the employees work part-time. In addition, temporary associates support us with communications, press and public relations, and graphics. Specialized companies, chosen based on 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 the GFF.”
Malte Spitz, Secretary General of the GFF
Although adding professional staff significantly increased our expenditures, it was necessary in order for us to broaden the scope of our work—both in terms of the number of cases we are able to take on, as well as the range of topics we are able to pursue. With the help of an expanded budget, we are currently developing additional ways to involve supporting members and interested parties in our work and strategic development.
- What Dos The GFF Need Funding For?
We use funds primarily for initiating and pursuing 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 us and our work and assuring transparency. All funds are therefore used—in accordance with our bylaws—to promote the basic rights that are essential to a democratic government and civil society.
The costs of the legal proceedings undertaken by us 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 us 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 a portion of the GFF’s attorneys’ fees. On the other hand, when we lose a case we have to cover the court costs and the opposing party’s attorneys’ fees. The financial difference between winning and losing a case creates significant uncertainty and can result in a cost difference of tens of thousands of Euros. In order to minimize and manage this risk we try to only take on cases that we believe we will win. However, even with careful risk management we cannot predict the outcome of any case with certainty. Additionally, even when we win a case we have to bear the inherent and substantial costs of litigation (i.e., a share of the attorneys’ fees as well as internal costs).
It is important for us to establish substantial financial reserves in order to be able to make time sensitive decisions and take on short-notice cases. In order to take on unexpected and short-notice cases, we must establish and maintain financial reserves capable of supporting an entire litigation from start to finish, which can sometimes take up to ten years. In the interim, we aim to reach and maintain a constant litigation reserve of 100,000 to 150,000 Euros. When we win a case we use the judgment award to cover the costs of future litigation new cases or, in the alternative, transfers the award to the litigation reserve.
In order to further our goal of establishing 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 approximately 2,000 Euros per month (approx. 13 Euro/sqm). We sublet one room within the space to a fellow NGO. Last year, we renovated the office—enlarging the space and purchasing necessary furniture. In addition, we invested more into our digital infrastructure (computers, servers, high-performance secure Internet).
We value providing a professional working environment and equitable compensation. We are committed to establishing and maintaining fair and equitable conditions of employment, and avoiding conditions that lead to “precarious employment” or self-exploitation. We adjust the wages of our employees in order to align with public service employees.
The same principles also apply to the lawyers and attorneys that represent us in court. We are grateful for their support and 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 compensated 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 the GFF is to promote strategic litigation for human rights in Germany. We want to raise awareness regarding 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, and thus support scientific research in this field. This is also one of the purposes we put forth in our bylaws. This engagement for science and research allows us to make direct contact with students, researchers, and scholars who can support our work through internships or legal clerkships. This aspect of our work involves significant costs, including those associated with organizing public events with partner organizations, supporting smaller research and outreach projects, and hiring interns (who are compensated with 400 Euros a month). Through this aspect of our work, we hope to train future cooperation partners and potentially future GFF employees.
Because we work with highly sensitive data, complainants and partner organizations rightly expect a high level of confidentiality. To ensure a high level of data security, the we have set up a largely independent IT infrastructure. This enables us to independently control our IT systems and ensures a high level of IT security. A downside of our heightened IT security structure is that it also requires a higher investment and increased basic costs (for example, those costs associated with owning servers, and having an independent 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 ensure the security and confidentiality of our information.
- Financial Transparency
Before the public launch in November 2016, the GFF’s business operations were manageable on a volunteer basis. The first official financial year for the GFF, was 2017 and the revenues and expenditures for that year accurately reflect the financial situation of the GFF. The GFF has therefore provided the report from the auditor who reviewed the GFF’s 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
- The GFF’s work qualifies for tax concessions because 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
- You can 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 the GFF act as a plaintiff in its own cases?
- Is the GFF a law firm?
- Who is behind the GFF?
- How can I support the GFF’s work?
- Is the GFF a charity?
- Who funds the GFF?
- Does the GFF work with corporations and accept donations from them?
- Is the GFF a politically partisan organization?
- Is the GFF only active in Germany?
- Does the GFF only work in its own name, or does it also participate in projects?
- Does the GFF cooperate with law clinics?
- Does the 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 the GFF act as a plaintiff in its own cases?
In general, no. We support lawsuits and see them through. Usually, the plaintiffs are individuals who represent organizations fitting the case, or the organizations themselves. We have not yet acted as a plaintiff, but rather offers legal, financial, organizational, and public relations support.
Is the GFF a law firm?
No. We only coordinate, support and finance 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 the GFF?
The GFF is run by a team of lawyers and activists and is supported by its members and their contributions. We have around 30 members from many areas of politics, academia, and civil society, including academics, writers, activists, journalists, and legal practitioners. See below for who funds the GFF.
How can I support the GFF’s work?
The easiest way to get involved is to donate to us or to become a supporting member. If you have a civil rights related case please get in touch—we would be happy to represent you if your case is suitable for strategic litigation. If you are an attorney willing to represent our cases in court, please also email us: firstname.lastname@example.org, using encryption: PGP/GPG Key ID FA2C23A8 (Download).
Is the GFF a charity?
According to our statute, we directly and exclusively pursue charitable goals. Our non-profit or charity status (Gemeinnützigkeit) is recognized under German law, such that donations are tax-exempt. We have also been admitted as an observer to the European Digital Rights (EDRI) association, an association of NGOs working on digital civil rights in Europe.
Who funds the GFF?
Our work is funded by our full members’ contributions, by our supporting members and by donations (click here to see how you can support our work). Moreover, in its start-up phase, we have received contributions from a number of different NGOs and foundations, including Stiftung Bridge / Bewegungsstiftung and the Open Society Foundations. Our annual fiscal report is published on this website.
Does the GFF work with corporations and accept donations from them?
We focus on partnerships with NGOs, activists and media. Depending on the case, a cooperation with a for-profit partner could be strategically valuable; for example, in order to win corporate plaintiffs for a test case. We are open to donations from corporations, but will have to consider such offers on a case-by-case basis in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
Is the GFF a politically partisan organization?
No, we are strictly non-partisan. We are committed to democracy, the civil rights protected by the German Constitution, and human rights, however, we do not have a partisan political agenda. Our members include supporters of a number of different democratic parties as well as non-partisan activists.
Is the GFF only active in Germany?
Unlike other NGOs that pursue a transnational approach, we focus on cases in Germany. However, we work closely with European and international partners. With our expertise, we support human and civil rights-oriented litigation work in Europe and around the globe.
Does the GFF only work in its own name, or does it also participate in projects?
We also 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 the GFF cooperate with Law Clinics?
Yes! Legal Clinics offer students access to practical experience—something which is otherwise largely absent in German universities. By participating in research, drafting briefs and assisting with client relations, students can become involved in real cases and develop a much richer understanding of the law, its impact, and its challenges. We actively support and promote clinics as a way of engaging students with civil and human rights issues. One way in which we support clinics is by cooperating with the Humboldt Law Clinic Internetrecht (HLCI).
Does the 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. We 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