Federal Data Protection Commissioner sues Federal Intelligence Service

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The top data protection officer in Germany is suing the foreign intelligence service BND. What this unique case is all about.

BND wants to decide on the scope of checks itself

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI) has brought an action against the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) before the Federal Administrative Court in order to enforce its powers of control. The court is to clarify how secretly the intelligence service is allowed to operate.

"The BfDI is being denied access by the BND to documents that are subject to the BfDI's right of access in order to carry out its inspection and are absolutely necessary for this. The BfDI had previously objected to this procedure without success," said the BfDI.

"We often work well with the federal intelligence services and information from us is taken as an opportunity to make changes. Unfortunately, however, we also find that our statutory complaints are not taken into account in the event of differences of opinion," explains Federal Data Protection Commissioner Ulrich Kelber. For example, the BND claims to want to decide on the necessary basis, scope and content of the monitoring.

Chief data protection officer files suit against federal authority for the first time

As reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the data protection authorities wanted to review a system used by the BND to monitor non-Germans abroad. To do this, the intelligence service needs an order from the Federal Chancellery, to which the BND reports. However, the BND did not want to show these orders, according to the BfDI.

And so it comes to a real premiere: for the first time in its 46-year history, the BfDI is suing a federal authority. This may also be due to the fact that Ulrich Kelber is only in office on an interim basis and the Bundestag already elected a successor in Louisa Specht-Riemenschneider on May 16. However, the lawyer and digital expert has not yet taken office.

The Federal Data Protection Commissioner is combative and is also targeting the Chancellery: "The BfDI currently only has the option of issuing non-enforceable complaints to the Federal Chancellery as the ministry responsible for the BND...The complaint subsequently issued by the BfDI was not taken into account by the Federal Chancellery - as in other previous cases."

The BfDI criticizes the fact that it has no enforceable right to issue orders that would enable more effective monitoring of the intelligence services. That is why it is now going to court. The judges in Leipzig are now to decide how far the inspections of the highest data protection authority may go.

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