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“Highly sensitive”: police access to Corona guest lists

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So-called Corona guest lists, which are available in restaurants and cafés, are used to track infection chains – in individual cases, however, the police also access this data to prosecute crimes. Such accesses have already been made in Bavaria, Hamburg and Rhineland-Palatinate, in other federal states such cases are not yet known or are not even permitted, as a survey by the German Press Agency of the federal states showed.

A discussion has flared up about the use of the data. Because the information is primarily intended for local health offices and an important source of research in the event of a corona outbreak. And mostly, the forms guarantee confidentiality and a deletion after four weeks. Are police access allowed at all?

Seizure for law enforcement possible

The police or ministries of the interior in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hesse, Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia reported that they had no access to Corona guest lists. However, the authorities pointed out that such access is legally permitted within the framework of criminal proceedings while maintaining proportionality.

The basis for this is the nationwide code of criminal procedure. Accordingly, a judge can order to confiscate objects – this could also be corona guest lists if they are of importance for investigations. If there is imminent danger, a public prosecutor can also order this. Even if the data should only be used for the actual purpose, a “change of purpose” is possible for the investigation of criminal offenses, according to the Bavarian police.

Access in Rhineland-Palatinate, Hamburg, Bavaria and Bremen

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the Ministry of the Interior has registered around a dozen cases in which corresponding lists were used in the course of criminal investigations. It was mainly about violent and sexual offenses, said a spokeswoman. So far, five cases are known in Hamburg in which the police used guest data for investigations, in Bavaria there are at least ten. In Bremen, the interior authority speaks of access in individual cases. It was all about the investigation of criminal offenses, including a sexual offense and dangerous bodily harm.

The Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Malu Dreyer (SPD) and Bavaria’s Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU) recently defended this approach. “These are serious crimes in which it makes sense and is correct to identify the perpetrator and investigate the crime,” said Herrmann on Thursday in the ARD “Mittagsmagazin”.

Baden-Württemberg emphasizes earmarking

There is no nationwide uniform registration requirement for guests in restaurants and cafés. In Saxony, for example, it is only required under certain conditions if minimum distances cannot be maintained. However, many countries require such lists – in order to be able to track corona infection chains.

Baden-Württemberg, for example, relies on this objective. The Corona Regulation “results in an explicit and, in our view, clear earmarking,” said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Thomas Strobl (CDU) made it clear in the newspapers of the Funke media group: “Use by the police, for example, to prosecute crimes is prohibited.”

The interior ministries in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia have so far not reported any access to Corona guest lists in criminal investigations. Corresponding queries have not yet been issued, said a ministry spokeswoman in Erfurt. They are only possible in justified exceptions.

Restaurants and opposition critical

The Dehoga restaurants association had recently asked the state governments to clarify whether and how the police would evaluate the Corona guest lists. “This is extremely sensitive,” said Dehoga managing director Ingrid Hartges of the “Rheinische Post”.

Support also came from the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag. “What our citizens rightly expect is that their data is not simply misused. Everything else damages trust and acceptance, but these are basic requirements, ”said Deputy Chairman Stephan Thomae. The police authorities should therefore act cautiously and cautiously.

Eren Bazaar, a member of the German Lawyers’ Association in the committee for security law, called for the protection of the privacy of citizens in the corona pandemic. “The Corona guest lists collect extensive data, which we would never approve of under normal circumstances,” said Bazaar. There is a special situation with the pandemic. “But I believe that we need a legal regulation that prohibits unlimited access to this data.” Bazaar therefore proposes a legal ban on the use of evidence for the guest lists. This is the only way to ensure that it does not give false information and that the lists serve their actual purpose.

Police union officials defended the practice. “One of the main tasks of the police is to ward off dangers and prosecute crimes,” said Jörg Radek, deputy chairman of the police union. “Depending on the state-specific specification of the regulations, this may also include the possibility of viewing documents, such as such Corona guest lists.”

The chairman of the German Police Union, Rainer Wendt, emphasized a strict examination of the proportionality. But: “If there is suspicion of a crime and other investigative approaches are not recognizable, there must be the possibility to look into such guest lists and evaluate the data, that is also provided for by the respective laws.”

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