When hunting down potential criminals, more and more countries are using a kind of police search engine that sifts through huge databases in a matter of seconds. Critics complain that the program does not stop at innocent people. Karlsruhe declares parts of the software to be unconstitutional.
The regulations on the use of a new type of data analysis software by the police in Hesse and Hamburg are unconstitutional in their current form. This was announced by the Federal Constitutional Court. However, a constitutional design is possible, said the chairman of the First Senate, Court President Stephan Harbarth, at the verdict in Karlsruhe. (Az. 1 BvR 1547/19 and others)
With the new analysis software for huge amounts of data, the police want to track down potential criminals more quickly. The program combs through databases to discover cross-connections that investigators might otherwise never notice. In Hesse, where the police have been working with the software since 2017, the legislator has until the end of September at the latest to redefine the problematic regulation. Until then, it will remain in force with significant restrictions.
The technology is not yet used in Hamburg, where the court declared the passage void. The judgment also has an indirect impact on other federal states. North Rhine-Westphalia is also already using the software. Bavaria is currently working on the introduction - as a pioneer for other states and the federal government. The Free State has concluded a framework agreement with the US company Palantir so that all other police forces can adopt its program without additional procurement procedures. In Hesse, initially only data from police stocks are evaluated. However, one of the databases also includes victims and witnesses - or someone who once reported a scratch on their car.
The Society for Freedom Rights (GFF), which initiated the review in Karlsruhe, considers this to be highly problematic. The program does not stop at innocent people either. In addition, the temptation is great to feed in external data over time - for example from social networks. Hessendata - as the program is called - is used in particular to combat terrorism, organized crime and child pornography. With around 14,000 queries a year, more than 2,000 police officers across the country work with the system. They are only activated for their area of responsibility.
The judgment relates exclusively to data analysis for the preventive fight against criminal offenses. Journalists, lawyers and activists appeared as plaintiffs. In autumn, the GFF submitted a third constitutional complaint about the NRW software. However, this was not taken into account in the procedure.