Censorship regime? German interior ministers call for end of anonymity on web, more surveillance, and new laws against hate speech

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, second right, is pushing an aggressive agenda against web freedom, anonymity online, and conservative viewpoints. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
By M B
9 Min Read

More surveillance, more resources against “disinformation” and less free speech were the themes of the Wednesday conference of interior ministers from Germany’s federal and state governments.

“We need more measures against misleading and demonstrably false information,” said Bavarian Minister of the Interior Joachim Herrmann, of the Christian Socialist Union, who is taking over the presidency.

Herrmann demanded that users should only be allowed to use their real names on social networks, effectively ending anonymity. He demanded that social media and web providers should be forced to verify the authenticity of the identity of their users. In addition, a paper produced by the interior ministers requires them to provide a “decrypted dump” of content in the event of an investigation against subjects.

“We need action, especially concerning anonymous distribution,” Herrmann added.

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The calls to end anonymity on the internet come despite Germany’s troubled past, in which members of the German resistance, including the White Rose, wrote anti-Nazi pamphlets under a pen name before they were caught and executed towards the end of the war. In East Germany and other communist-era nations, which featured surveillance capabilities that pale in comparison to modern Germany, opposition and pro-democracy activists actively published anonymous, illegal texts known as samizdat. Although hunted down and arrested at the time, these writers and dissidents are now seen as “freedom fighters” and praised by many of the same current political leaders and journalists pushing for mass censorship and surveillance.

Hate crimes on the Internet pose a great danger to peaceful coexistence in a free, open, and democratic society,” said Nancy Faeser (SPD), Germany’s current federal interior minister. To combat these hate crimes, data retention is also necessary, she added.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser listens to a statement at the end of her visit to the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, Tuesday, May 31, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

As Remix News has previously reported, the far-left Faeser is leading a campaign against “far-right extremism,” arguing this fight should already begin in kindergarten. Despite evidence showing left-wing violence is a larger threat, she claims right-wing elements are actually the biggest threat to the German state. She has been criticized for writing in the far-left Antifa magazine, which was funded by a designated extremist organization, shortly before coming to power, but that has done little to rein in her agenda. She instead has put forth a 10-point plan to fight “right-wing extremism” which in many ways appears to be a blanket effort to target any conservative thought or dissent.

In addition, despite the German government in the past applauding the use of Belarusians using Telegram to fight against Aleksandr Lukashenko, both she and the previous government under Merkel have ramped up efforts to ban the platform entirely due to its free speech policy.

What disinformation actually remains is very unclear, but much of the focus appears to be on combating “hate speech” on the web; this could cover illegal hate symbols such as the swastika, but could also include legitimate dissent and criticism of government policy, including on topics related to religion, abortion, LGBT issues, and coronavirus policy. As Remix News previously reported, “hate speech” is a tenuous concept in many cases and increasingly applied to a wide range of conservative beliefs:

The question then becomes what defines a hate crime on the web? Obvious calls to violence will undoubtedly be prosecuted, but what about criticism of mass migration or pointing out foreign overrepresentation in German crime statistics, especially for serious crimes like rape – just to name two potential examples. Will such criticisms constitute hate crimes?

The reality is that this law will most surely be abused if the past is any guide. Take, for instance, the recent case of Berlin’s left-wing mayor, Michael Müller, of the Social Democrat party (SPD), who ordered a police raid on a Facebook user for posting an immigration-critical photo that targeted Müller:

The case dates back to April 14, 2019, when a Facebook user under the name of “Karina Fitza” shared a doctored photo of Mayor Michael Müller, which suggested he wanted to relocate all of the migrants who’ve been picked up by NGO ships to Berlin.

The shared image, which the woman had discovered earlier on Twitter, clearly offended the Social Democratic mayor, prompting him to contact Berlin’s Chief Prosecutor Jöorg Raupach and demand that criminal action be taken against the social media user. Earlier this month, the letter sent to Raupach from Müller — titled “Criminal complaint by the superior” — was made public in a report published by the German newspaper Die Welt.

After determining Karina Fitza’s real identity, the public prosecutor’s office easily obtained a warrant from a district judge to search the woman’s home. On the morning of Feb. 20, 2020, at 6 a.m., five officers from the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) conducted a raid on the woman’s apartment and seized two mobile telephones and two tablets. According to a report from Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg 24, the woman now suffers from a sleep disorder as a result of the trauma she was forced to experience on the day of the early morning raid.

In a country gearing up new plans to accept hundreds of thousands of new immigrants every year, are those who reject such a society-altering plan and create content protesting it on social media about to be charged criminally, or even worse, have their houses raided?

German police have also taken a heavy-handed approach against free speech, raiding over 100 homes over “insulting” speech under the broader banner of “hate speech” directed against politicians, with some of those raids criticized as egregious violations of civil liberties.

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Nevertheless, several draft resolutions prepared during the interior ministers’ conference on Wednesday will deal with hate speech on the internet, with Bavaria’s interior minister stating that anyone who becomes radicalized must be identified early through “extensive, electronically supported information gathering” — in other words, mass surveillance.

Germany’s left-wing government, with the aid of the country’s state interior ministers, are also looking to increasingly criminalize “misinformation.”

“The deliberate and targeted spreading of lies to divide and spread hatred is not an expression of opinion worthy of protection,” Herrmann argued to justify the procedure. “Misleading and false information endangers our democracy.”

In his view, the targeted dissemination of disinformation should be punishable under certain conditions. That also applies to comparable facts such as incitement to hatred or the approval of a war of aggression, which would likely apply to anyone who takes Russia’s side in the conflict in Ukraine.

However, the Bavarian interior minister’s plans and the rest of the government may come into conflict with Germany’s constitution and current case law as it stands in the Federal Constitutional Court, which expressly places false information under the protection of freedom of expression.

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