GFF supports the complaint lodged by a citizen of Passau contesting the video surveillance of the centrally located square “Klostergarten”. In recent years, the police have at best only occasionally recorded crimes committed at this location, and the numbers have been declining recently. Nevertheless, citizens are now being subjected to unwarranted video monitoring by ten cameras placed at that location. This policy impairs social exchange in the public sphere and violates the fundamental right to informational self-determination of those being monitored.
Since December 2018, the city of Passau has been monitoring every corner of the municipal monastery garden with an elaborate installation of cameras. The monastery garden is slightly smaller than a football field. The square is located in the immediate vicinity of the central bus station, the university, and numerous shopping and refreshment facilities. Due to its location, thousands of people cross the square daily. All passers-by are now recorded by the cameras, and the recordings are stored for 72 hours.
The recorded images from the monastery garden can be inspected subsequently by the Ordnungsamt and, in exceptional cases, by the police or the public prosecutor’s office. For purposes of criminal prosecution, a permanent storage of the recordings is possible in the case of offences punishable by more than two months. The video surveillance system is only switched off between 01:00 and 06:00 hours. An employee of the city concurrently observes the recordings live on monitors located in a surveillance cottage on the square.
Crime prevention despite low crime rate
With the installation of video surveillance, the city of Passau has declared its intention to strengthen the public’s sense of security. In recent years, however, the monastery garden has attracted less and less attention as a “crime scene”. In 2017, only three mild injuries, one serious injury, and four instances of insulting or verbally abusive behavior were recorded by the police. Fifteen drug offences were also recorded. The drug offences recorded in Passau almost exclusively involve cannabis. How many of these cases resulted in criminal convictions is unknown.
No legal basis for urban video surveillance
Given the low crime rate, it is likely the city is too safe to justify such police video surveillance. Video surveillance by police authorities is only permitted at so-called “crime hot spots”. The GFF wishes to have the courts issue a legal clarification that this requirement also applies to video surveillance of urban areas in general.
Accordingly, GFF and Josef Ilsanker of Passau have filed a lawsuit in the Regensburg Administrative Court challenging the system of police video surveillance in Passau. The lawsuit was initiated and is significantly assisted by Passau students Constantin Breß and Till Casimir.
Video surveillance violates core fundamental rights
Video surveillance represents a severe encroachment on the right to informational self-determination. If it is no longer apparent to an individual who knows what about him or her or when another person or entity acquires such knowledge, he or she will adapt his or her behavior so as not to attract attention. This leads not only to the curtailment of individual social interactions, but also to the derogation of the democratic body politic. This follows because public spaces serve a vital public function as places of social interaction and free exchange.
Through increasing and encroaching surveillance, the state is depriving its citizens of the unfettered use of these pubic spaces. The incursion on public spaces by means of video surveillance, as in the case of Passau, is particularly severe because of the large number of citizens who are affected and because the monitoring is not based on any cause or suspicion of wrongdoing. Therefore, we are convinced the Passau video surveillance is illegal.
- The complaint before the administrative court of Regensburg can be found here (in German).
- The plaintiff’s response to the defendant’s obersvations can be found here (in German).
- You can find a supplementary statement by the plaintiff on the risks of public video surveillance here (in German).
- The file number of the proceedings is RN 9 K 19.1061.
- Our current press release on the case can be found here (in German).
Photo Credit: GFF