Verdict on dragnet searches

‘[…] a dragnet search conducted according to specific criteria [can, if it becomes known,] reproduce prejudices and stigmatise the segments of the population affected.’

Federal Constitutional Court - 1 BvR 518/02 -

In response to the attacks of 11 September, the German police performed dragnet searches as part of their counter-terrorism programme to uncover so-called ‘sleepers’. These search methods used electronic data processing to compare data automatically. Between 2001 and 2003 alone, the personal data of 200,000 to 300,000 people were stored and analysed. About 32,000 Muslim men came into consideration as suspects according to the new profile created by the police. It consisted of the following criteria: male, aged 18 to 40, (former) student, Islamic religious affiliation and country of birth. A student of Moroccan origin filed a constitutional complaint against preventative police dragnet searches. He doubted the presence of a concrete danger that could have justified the dragnet search, and perceived the search as a massive infringement of his fundamental right to informational self-determination. The Federal Constitutional Court found in favour of the complainant and ruled that dragnet searches could only be used in the event of a concrete danger to high-ranking legally protected rights, that is, rights necessary for the continued existence or the security of the state or of a region (Land), or for the life, limb and freedom of a person. The Court ruled that dragnet searches are only legitimate if, in a specific case, there is a reasonable likelihood that damage would result to these high-ranking legally protected rights.

© Büro zur Umsetzung von Gleichbehandlung e.V. 2011