Category Archives: Surveillance (physical mail)

German Police Open Mail at Random

German Police Open Mail at Random

by Markus Schlegel,24 May 2007

Germany’s executive branch seems to get ever more out of control. In a report in today’s online edition, eco-left oriented newspaper Tageszeitung (taz) reports about random controls in central post office distribution centers in the city of Hamburg.

According to the report, letters are being opened at random, sorted only according to the city districts and “suspect” receivers. After a series of violent arson attacks against objects such as cars (in which no persons were injured or hurt), and with German Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble justifying about any means for the sake of “security”, police apparently have lost measure in their activities. According to the rport, it is unclear as of Friday morning (local German time) whether a court order has been issued for the course of action taken by the German Bureau of Investigation (Bundeskriminalamt, Landeskriminalamt).

The case reported on Friday seems only the latest example of excès de pouvior on behalf of the executive branch where a combination of blurred lines within the procedural penal code’s provision and an increasing contempt for court orders by the German executive branch are at work.

The most obvious example of such ignorance apparently was the case of the German so called Luftsicherheitsgesetz (Air Security Act): After the German Constitutional Court had made it sufficiently clear in a ruling in February 2006 that it sees legal provisions for the downing of passenger jets by the German Air Force as unconstitutional, new draft legislation was immediately commissioned by German Interior Minister Schäuble to enable such military action.

In the runup to the G8 summit in Germany, after little under one and a half years with the conservative-social democrat grand coalition in power, civil liberties have suffered substancial structural blows. This transforms the according legal provisions into a turkney solution, providing an ideal toolbox for any possible future totalitarian government. In a worst case scenario, even the existing framework would provide such a government with powers and means, technically well beyond what was possible at the point in time when the Nazis took over Germany, in 1933:

  • Authorities are enabled to search any online traffic without court orders. Internet service providers, at own expense, need to provide the authorities with backdoors to their systems, entries through which must be intransparent at all times even for ISPs.
  • Trojan horse programmes are being commissioned and used by the German State police, enabling the targeting of any PC without prior court orders. After the Federal Administrative court had declared such practises unlawful for police forces, state politicians in Northrhine Westphalia and on the federal level said they saw no reasons to revision existing provisions on state and federal levels for clandestine online searches without court warrants by Secret State Police authorities (Landesverfassungsschutz, Bundesverfassungsschutz).
  • All connection data from any landline or mobile telephone line, as a result of European legislation, is currently being stored for 6 months. In the absence of efficient court control, it is unclear whether such data is actually being erased by the authorities, once collected.
  • Discussion is continuing over the internal use of the German Army (Bundeswehr) for policing tasks. With the armed forces being equipped for combat, experts question the scope of such legislation.
  • Scent sampling, a practise well known from former communist East Germany, has recently been used to identify suspects in the runup to the G8 summit.
  • Storage of biometrical data in all municipalities is planned by the conservative majority government and would de facto put all citizens into a position of potential suspects, with issues of misuse of the data unclear thus far.
  • In recent interviews, Federal Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, said that for terrorist offences the principle of in dubio pro reo could not be sustained.
  • The right to free assembly, guaranteed by Article 8 of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz), is being seriously hampered, as no-go areas in the neighborhood of the G8 summit are being extended to a perimeter of 10 Kilometres, apparently ushering in a new tactic of complete denial of an efficient right to demonstrate.

According to a report by the reknowned German protestant news agency (epd), Amnesty International representatives asked to visit mass retention camps which will be set up for suspects near the G8 summit in Heiligendamm.

New postal law lets Bush peek through your mail

New postal law lets Bush peek through your mail

January 4, 2007

President Bush added a “signing statement” in recently passed postal reform bill that may give him new powers to pry into your mail – without a warrant.

WASHINGTON – President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge’s warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a “signing statement” that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Bush’s move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

“Despite the President’s statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people’s mail without a warrant,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.

Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.

“The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.

“The danger is they’re reading Americans’ mail,” she said.

“You have to be concerned,” agreed a career senior U.S. official who reviewed the legal underpinnings of Bush’s claim. “It takes Executive Branch authority beyond anything we’ve ever known.”

A top Senate Intelligence Committee aide promised, “It’s something we’re going to look into.”

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court’s approval.

Yet in his statement Bush said he will “construe” an exception, “which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent … with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances.”

Bush cited as examples the need to “protect human life and safety against hazardous materials and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.

“In certain circumstances – such as with the proverbial ‘ticking bomb’ – the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches,” she said.

Bush, however, cited “exigent circumstances” which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.

Critics point out the administration could quickly get a warrant from a criminal court or a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to search targeted mail, and the Postal Service could block delivery in the meantime.

But the Bush White House appears to be taking no chances on a judge saying no while a terror attack is looming, national security experts agreed.

Martin said that Bush is “using the same legal reasoning to justify warrantless opening of domestic mail” as he did with warrantless eavesdropping.