An in-depth report from The New York Times has revealed the scale of Germany’s prosecution of “online speech-related crimes” and provided a behind-the-scenes look at the units who are tasked with surveilling social media to build cases against German citizens for what they post online.
The Times said that after reviewing German state records, it found that there were more than 8,500 cases related to alleged online speech-related crimes and more than 1,000 people have been charged or punished since 2018. However, no national figures exist on the total number of people charged with online speech-related crimes, and experts that spoke with The New York Times said the true figure is probably much higher.
The Times’ report also provides details on the copious amounts of social media surveillance that are being conducted by a task force in the German city, Göttingen. This task force was created in 2020 and reportedly has hallways, bookshelves, and desks filled with red evidence files. These files contain printouts of German citizens’ Facebook comments, tweets, and Telegram posts. Investigators that work on the task force search through social media feeds, public records, and government data to gather evidence of purported online speech-related crimes.
This task force is in charge of cases across Lower Saxony, a state in northern Germany. Authorities in Lower Saxony reportedly raid homes multiple times per month and in some cases, a local television crew records and broadcasts the raids.
Citizens who are raided but refuse to give up their phones have them seized and sent to a lab. This lab uses software made by the digital intelligence company Cellebrite to unlock the seized phones.
This task force alone investigated 566 “internet speech-related crimes” last year and expects to investigate double that number in 2022. The unit also fines or punishes around 28% of those who are investigated.