Several organisations and associations support a constitutional complaint against the Central Register of Foreigners. They argue that the data collection is out of control and violates fundamental rights.
Eleven refugees filed a constitutional complaint on Tuesday against the amendment to the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR), which came into force in November 2022. The plaintiffs are supported by lawyers from the Society for Freedom Rights (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte, GFF), the organisation Pro Asyl and the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany. In addition, the alliance is supporting two refugees who are suing the Ansbach Administrative Court to stop their data from the AZR being passed on to the police and secret services.
With about 26 million personal data records, the AZR is one of the most extensive automated registers of public administration in Germany. Every person living in Germany without German citizenship is registered. More than 16,000 public offices and organisations can query the data. In addition to the foreigners authorities, these include police and prosecution authorities, secret services, job centres, youth welfare offices and courts.
This mass access to the “data monster” AZR increases the potential for abuse enormously, the GFF already described in a study last year. Not only is there a danger that authorities will make far too much use of data retrieval. In the worst case, sensitive data could also end up in the hands of racially motivated criminals or persecuting states from which those affected had fled.
The amendment to the law passed last year makes it possible for asylum decisions and court rulings to be completely stored in the AZR. These data contain personal information on the flight history, political persecution, mental health or sexual orientation. Secret services, public prosecutors and the police can also use the information without restriction. This is even possible for the prosecution or defence of petty crimes.
The police can also query “group information” in the Central Register of Foreigners: this involves searching the database for people with certain characteristics. This could run counter to the ban on misappropriation for official use of personal data.
According to the GFF, in 2020 alone, authorities carried out a daily average of 260,000 data queries in the AZR. Refugees, whose biometric data and information on health, education and family are also stored, are particularly affected.
The GFF warns that the persons concerned are a particularly vulnerable group of people seeking protection from war and persecution in Germany. The AZR therefore not only violates the fundamental right to informational self-determination, but also the prohibition of discrimination and European data protection laws. Finally, the data collection is not limited to a necessary and proportionate extent. The GFF therefore hopes that the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe will “clarify the fundamental rights limits for the storage of data of refugees”.
“I was persecuted in Turkey because of my pro-Kurdish commitment and I also go to pro-Kurdish demonstrations and events in Germany. I don’t want security authorities to be able to find out about my political beliefs in the AZR,” says a plaintiff introduced by GFF as Miran. “The negligent handling of refugees’ data joins the current tendency of the government to curtail the fundamental rights of refugees and migrants,” comments Wiebke Judith, the legal policy spokesperson of Pro Asyl.
The lawsuit is also about the rights of those affected: The GFF knows that it is very difficult for them to get an insight into the data stored about them. The application procedure for such information is already associated with high hurdles, and the answers take a long time to come. The scope of the reply also does not meet the legal requirements.
The next expansion of the AZR is already imminent. The draft law on the adaptation of data transfer regulations in the field of aliens and social law, which was passed by the German government on Wednesday, also mentions an “improved data exchange via the Central Register of Foreigners”. In future, information on whether and for how long the persons concerned receive subsistence benefits is to be recorded. Foreigners’ and benefits authorities are to be allowed to retrieve the data automatically. Currently, social welfare offices receive data on the relocation of a foreigner only upon request in individual cases. The new law still has to be passed by the Bundestag.
Published in German in „nd“.