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In the file affair involving thousands of illegally published pages containing Stasi information about journalists and trade unionists, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection has opened proceedings against the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi files. The data protection officer confirmed this at the request of BuzzFeed News and Übermedien.
How the Stasi records authority helped the rbb and “Bild” to research dozens of journalists
Previously, BuzzFeed News and Übermedien had published research, according to which employees of the Stasi records authority should have helped editorial offices to “research” members and functionaries of the largest German journalists’ union, the DJV. This was the result of an internal examination by the Stasi records authority itself. The “Berliner Zeitung” had also reported.
As has now become known, Ulrich Kelber, the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDI), initiated a data protection review process shortly after the publication. The person responsible for the Stasi files, Roland Jahn, was sent a questionnaire with an unusually short processing time of just one week. Since May 7th, Jahn’s answer has been available in the Kelber house. She confirmed the allegations and research – and apparently does not satisfy the Federal Data Protection Officer.
As a spokeswoman for Kelbers explained when asked by BuzzFeed News and Übermedien, Roland Jahn asked the authority “to provide additional documents in order to get an idea of the subject of the application and the research carried out. Subsequently, it will have to be checked whether the measures taken so far by the BStU are sufficient, or whether there is a need for further action which, if necessary, could also be implemented with supervisory measures.
In this case, the Federal Data Protection Officer would have extensive resources at their disposal. In addition to instructions, he can also issue complaints or warnings and even impose fines – also against other authorities.
The basis for the investigation that has now been initiated was evidence that media requests from a few editors were processed in the Stasi records authority even if they were clearly inadmissible – and thus some of the most private information left the authority.
In a specific case, an inadmissible media application from the “Bild” newspaper was treated as a permissible application. It initially comprised 20 people, but was expanded again and again, even by the authority’s clerk himself, so that in the end it comprised 164 people, for whom documents were then searched in the authority, including those on spouses and parents or children.
In the end, around 1,000 pages of documents with partly private information were released from the Stasi records authority. There are also allegations about the agency’s cooperation with a reporter from the rbb.
In addition, a speech that the chairman of the DJV Berlin had given on an association day in 2015 was apparently stored and evaluated in the BStU as a sound recording and partial transcript – the speech was neither public nor should it have been recorded. When the person concerned wanted information about who had requested or received documents about him, the Federal Commissioner Roland Jahn had contacted himself personally from a private email address to prevent this. “It is not the job of the authority to add unlawful sound recordings to the database. That’s Stasi 2.0 ”, criticizes the administrative lawyer Cord Heinichen, who represents the person concerned.
Immediately after BuzzFeed News and Übermedien published the allegations, the Stasi records authority told “Bild” that the publication of the more than 1,000 pages was “legally compliant” – and thus contradicted its own internal report. Numerous inquiries from BuzzFeed News and over-media were then no longer answered by the authorities, the press spokeswoman could not be reached by phone, and callback requests remained unanswered.
However, the answer of the Stasi records authority to the questions of the Federal Data Protection Commissioner does not indicate that the BStU changed its legal assessment of the events and classified the incidents as “legally compliant”. Rather, according to a spokeswoman for Kelbers, it is stated that the processes were the subject of an internal review, which came to the conclusion that both the application and the processing in the authority were unlawful and the process “thus represented an inadmissible group query “. The documents issued in response would have left the authority without a legal basis – just as we had reported.
From the internal review that considers the entire process to be unlawful
At that time there was no reclaim of the documents from the applicant. Within the BStU, however, “due to the current debate”, the current guidelines and data protection requirements have been pointed out again.
The German Association of Journalists (DJV) also intervened after the events became known. The federal chairman Frank Überall wrote on April 24th. Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters – who oversees the Stasi records authority – a letter, two days later the DJV published a press release. In it he spoke of a “file affair” and a “general suspicion” against DJV members and called for comprehensive clarification.
A spokesman for the DJV said at the request of BuzzFeed News and Übermedien that no response had yet been received. Instead, they only learned, albeit only upon request, that Grütters had passed the letter on to answer – to Roland Jahn.
Questions from BuzzFeed News and over-media to the Minister of State for Culture have so far remained unanswered. The authority said that they had initially requested a statement from the BStU and did not want to comment during the ongoing processing.
In the meantime, those affected who had been illegally investigated by the Stasi records authority have also spoken out. In an open letter to the DJV Berlin JVBB, to which many of those affected belong or belonged, they sharply criticize the state association because, unlike the federal executive board, it has so far not commented publicly on the research carried out by its members:
“We expect the board of directors to take measures to enforce the rights of its members. These include complaints to the Berlin State Data Protection Officer and the Senator for Culture, as well as to the directorship and editor-in-chief of the rbb as well as to the management of Springer-Verlag and the editor-in-chief of Bild-Zeitung. We demand that the board grants us individual personal legal protection in matters of personal rights and data protection in the event of further steps, both against the BStU and, if necessary, against the Bild-Zeitung and the rbb. “
The editor-in-chief of the rbb, David Biesinger, replied to the authors of the letter on Wednesday. He rejected the allegations that the broadcaster had queried almost 50 functionaries of the then DJV Berlin and stated that the internal examination in the Stasi records authority had not dealt with any applications from the rbb. For the rbb it was “a lawful and justified search”.
The file scandal overshadows the end of Roland Jahn’s term of office. He will retire in mid-June after more than ten years. The federal commissioner for the Stasi files then replaces a federal commissioner for the victims of the SED dictatorship at the German Bundestag. The Stasi records authority is transferred to the federal archive. Around 900 employees work in the Federal Archives, around 1,300 in the Stasi records authority.
With the move, could all the question marks that have now surfaced about how the authorities deal with certain editorial offices become obsolete? Not if the Federal Data Protection Commissioner has its way: “Regardless of the outcome of the specific individual case, the BfDI will also make the processing of media applications the subject of the next inspection by the BStU / the Federal Archives,” clarifies a spokeswoman.
In the Stasi Records Authority are old Stasi members still working. In the beginning officially more than 20 and now an unknown number is left.