Police laws in Hesse and Hamburg on data processing unconstitutional

Karlsruhe (Reuters) – The Federal Constitutional Court has declared regulations in Hesse and Hamburg on the automated processing of personal data to be unconstitutional.

However, the Karlsruhe judges did not fundamentally reject this practice, but called for higher hurdles and gradations in its application.

The police laws of the two federal states, which are intended to prevent serious crimes and avert dangers, in their current form violate the right to informational self-determination and personal rights, the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday. He justified his judgment with the fact that there is no intervention threshold in the regulations. Hesse must now change its law accordingly by September 30, 2023. Until then, it is applicable subject to conditions. In Hamburg, where automated data evaluation has not yet been put into practice, the regulation is void. The constitutional complaints of eleven plaintiffs were thus successful.

The regulations served the legitimate purpose of preventing serious crimes under time pressure, explained the Karlsruhe constitutional judges. However, the laws in Hesse and Hamburg are not proportionate. They therefore called for a gradation: If there is a risk to life, limb or the freedom of persons, serious interference with informational self-determination through the analysis of databases could also be permissible if there is a “sufficiently concrete risk”. In the case of criminal offenses of “considerable importance”, less serious interference with personal rights could be justified in the event of a sufficiently specific danger. In order to protect “overridingly important legal interests” – which include attacks on the continued existence of the Federal Republic – the intervention threshold could be lower and fall short of a specific danger. (Az: 1 BvR 1547/19 and 1 BvR 2634/20)

The verdict has pilot character. North Rhine-Westphalia has also passed a corresponding police law, while other federal states are planning to merge and automatically analyze databases. This includes traffic data as well as criminal files or mobile phone data from radio cells, which are combined and evaluated using search functions. In this way, among other things, relationships between people and organizations can be established. In Hesse, automated data analysis is used thousands of times a year. Since 2017, the analysis software “Gotham” from the US company Palantir has been used under the name “Hessendata”.

(Report by Ursula Knapp; written by Hakan Ersen; edited by Sabine Wollrab. If you have any questions, please contact our editorial team at [email protected] (for politics and the economy) or [email protected] (for companies and markets).)