Five federal states: German interception centre further delayed

An institution in Leipzig is to act as a central service provider for the surveillance of telecommunications from 2024.

The wiretapping centre planned in Leipzig by five German states will be delayed for at least another two years. This was reported by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) in the run-up to last week’s meeting of the East German interior ministries in Erfurt. According to MDR information, the current status of the €15 million project will be presented there. As a central service provider, it is to take over telecommunications surveillance tasks for police forces and secret services.

The facility trades as the Joint Competence and Service Centre (GKDZ). The states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia want to bundle their telecommunications surveillance there. The plans for this date back to 2015, since then the project has been delayed again and again. Most recently, it was said that operations could begin in 2021.

The state governments involved have concluded a State Treaty for the operation of the GKDZ. It regulates the measures carried out there according to § 100a StPO (German Code of Criminal Procedure), i.e. classic wiretapping measures of telephone conversations. The use of state Trojans by the participating federal states could also be carried out centrally from Leipzig in the future. However, according to the state treaty, the collection of inventory or traffic data is apparently not part of this. According to a 2018 ruling by the Federal Court of Justice, the sending of Silent SMS silence is also no longer covered by Section 100a.

The former Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Alexander Dix, had already submitted a statement to the Interior Committee in 2015, from which details about the wiretapping centre became public for the first time. According to the statement, „a large amount of sensitive data subject to telecommunications secrecy is processed there by a central office“. According to a presentation, servers for the extraction of data of intercepted telecommunications from network providers are also operated there.

The police authorities of the participating federal states are connected via interfaces and receive the exported data through them. These are stored in the GKDZ as copies. According to information at the time, servers with a „storage capacity in the petabyte range“ were to be purchased for this purpose. If technically possible, the centres should also „analyse encrypted communication and, if necessary, decrypt it“, according to the presentation.

A year ago, Juliane Nagel, a member of the Leipzig state parliament for the Left Party, asked about the status of the GKDZ in a parlamentary question. At that time, it was said that the centre was „in the construction phase“ and had not yet started its trial operation. In its answer to another question by right-wing AfD, the state government later wrote that operation for all federal states would begin in 2024 at the earliest.

Nevertheless, the construction of the telecommunications monitoring system is to begin soon, MDR learned from the head of the interception centre, Ulf Lehmann. After that comes the test phase. Further delays could then accumulate because of the „difficult-to-calculate delivery times of the required hardware“.

Officially, the GKDZ is not supposed to be a police agency. For reasons of fail-safety, another centre was to be set up in Dresden. The tasks of the GKDZ also include support tasks such as advising and training staff of participating authorities.

Image: Berlin police.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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

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