German police and secret service: Transmission of Kurdish association data is illegal

Associations of foreign nationals are kept in a central register in Germany. Members of Kurdish foundations are subject to special surveillance. However, a corresponding decree from 1994 can not be found anymore.

The German Federal Office of Administration (BVA) transmits data on Kurdish associations to the police and secret service without any reason. The background to this is a 1994 decree by then Interior Minister Manfred Kanther (Christian Democrats) to prosecute the Kurdistan Workers‘ Party (PKK), which had been forbidden in Germany a year earlier.

However, there is no legal basis for this nearly thirty-year-old practice. This is confirmed by an expert opinion of the Scientific Services in the Bundestag, which was commissioned by Gökay Akbulut, a member of the Left Party. Akbulut commented that this was a „blatant breach of law and politically intolerable“.

Extra information if association is „political“

Associations whose members or board members are all or predominantly not citizens of EU member states are considered „associations for foreigners“ in Germany. According to Section 19 of the German Associations Act, they must report personal data of all board members or appropriately authorized persons to the relevant state association authorities within two weeks.

The states then forward the information for storage in the register of foreigners‘ associations at the Federal BVA in Cologne. This is also regulated in the Associations Act. As of April 14, the register counts 14,690 foundations.

If the associations are considered „political,“ they must also provide the names and addresses of all members at the request of the authorities. Another obligation is to provide information about the activities of the association as well as the origin and use of their financial resources. No concrete danger need be apparent for this request; the discretion of the association authorities is sufficient for this.

„Spontaneous transmission“ of retained data

Kurdish associations are subject to additional monitoring. The BVA forwards their retained information as so-called „spontaneous transmission“ to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), which is the German domestic secret service. There, according to the ministry, they are „compared with the data stock of the security authorities“ and retained if necessary.

This unprovoked transfer of personal data is an infringement of fundamental rights for which a legal authorization is required, emphasize the experts of the Scientific Services. This cannot be circumvented by the 1994 Kanther decree, which is „merely internal administrative law“, they say.

In addition, the decree can no longer be legally reviewed. This is because the document has disappeared from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as the Secretary of State for the Interior, Mahmut Özdemir (SPD), recently informed MP Akbulut.

Laws do not suffice

Among other things, the German government sees the Federal Constitutional Protection Act as the legal basis for the transmission to the domestic intelligence service. According to the Scientific Services, however, this is not sufficient. It is true that the BVA is supposed to transmit certain information to the secret service without being asked to do so, for example if the office becomes aware of activities that pose a threat to security. This would include, for example, membership in the PKK, which was banned in 1993, or any front organizations.

However, the BVA would have to determine in each individual case whether such aspirations are recognizable as facts before passing the information on to the BfV. However, this is not regularly done in the „spontaneous transmissions“.

The forwarding of information to the BKA, which the Ministry of the Interior bases on the BKA Act, is similarly questionable. Here too, however, actual indications of criminal acts are required, write the scientists of the Bundestag. The mere foundation of a Kurdish association cannot be sufficient for this.

Examination of whether the 1994 decree „meets current needs“

In the report, the authors cite the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on internet inventory data of May 27, 2020, which speaks of a „double-door model“. According to this, such information flows between authorities require a legal basis for both the query and the transmission. „Only both legal bases together, which must work together like a double door, authorize an exchange of personal data“, the court order states.

In its response to parliamentary questions posed by Akbulut, as member of the Bundestag, the Interior Ministry also wrote at the end of April that it was examining „the extent to which the relevant decree from 1994 still meets current needs“. However, the lack of a legal basis is not cited as the reason. The „data transfers to foreigners‘ associations“ no longer meet the „requirements of data protection law,“ the answer says.

From the figures of recent years, however, no decline in „spontaneous transmissions“ is discernible. In 2021, 75 Kurdish associations were reported to police and intelligence services by the BVA, compared with 90 a year earlier, and the number for 2019 is given as 44.

Possible transfer to Turkish intelligence services

Akbulut points to another problem. For example, given the German-Turkish security cooperation, it is conceivable that the data from the register of foreigners‘ associations will also be passed on directly or indirectly to Turkish secret services. „For reasons of the welfare of the state,“ however, the Interior Ministry does not want to provide any information on this. It is thus possible that only the information from Germany provides for a persecution will of Turkish authorities.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior is also aware of this repression against Kurdish movements in Turkey. However, no special precautions are taken because of this. Rather, the answer to the parliamentary questions states that members „in an association legally active in Germany with reference to Kurdish concerns“ should observe the general travel warnings for Turkey issued by the Foreign Office.

„The fact that the German government is supporting the Erdogan regime in persecuting opposition figures by passing on data is an absolute scandal,“ commented Gökay Akbulut. „This secret service cooperation with Turkey must be stopped immediately“.

Image: C.Suthorn / cc-by-sa-4.0 /, Gemeinsam gegen Polizeigesetze, PKK-Verbot und Nationalismus 14, CC BY-SA 4.0

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.