A Pantomime of Privacy: Terror and Investigative Powers in German Constitutional Law

64 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2017 Last revised: 3 Apr 2017

See all articles by Russell Miller

Russell Miller

Washington and Lee University - School of Law

Date Written: February 19, 2017


Germany is widely regarded as a global model for the privacy protection its constitutional regime offers against intrusive intelligence-gathering and law enforcement surveillance. There is some basis for Germany’s privacy “exceptionalism,” especially as the text of the German constitution (Basic Law) provides explicit textual protections that America’s 18th Century constitution lacks. The German Federal Constitutional Court has added to those doctrines with an expansive interpretation of the more general rights to dignity (Article 1 of the Basic Law) and the free development of one’s personality (Article 2 of the Basic Law). This jurisprudence includes constitutional liberty guarantees such as the absolute protection of a “core area of privacy,” a “right to informational self-determination,” and a right to the “security and integrity of information-technology systems.” On closer examination, however, Germany’s burnished privacy reputation may not be so well-deserved. The Constitutional Court’s assessment of challenged intelligence-gathering or investigative powers through the framework of the proportionality principle means, more often than not, that the intrusive measures survive constitutional scrutiny so long as they are adapted to accommodate an array of detailed, finely-tuned safeguards that are meant to minimize and mitigate infringements on privacy. Armed with a close analysis of its recent, seminal decision in the BKA-Act Case, in this article I argue that this adds up to a mere pantomime of privacy – a privacy of precise data retention and deletion timelines, for example – but not the robust “right to be let alone” that contemporary privacy advocates demand.

Keywords: Germany, Privacy, BKA, Investigative Powers, Core-Area of Privacy, Proportionality, Terrorism, Data Protection, Data Transfers, Intelligence Oversight

Suggested Citation

Miller, Russell, A Pantomime of Privacy: Terror and Investigative Powers in German Constitutional Law (February 19, 2017). Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2017-5, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2920115 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2920115

Russell Miller (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - School of Law ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

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