Germany cancels plans to investigate racial profiling in police forces

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has cancelled plans to investigate racial profiling into its police forces, according to a media report.

Germany cancels plans to investigate racial profiling in police forces
An anti-racism protest on June 16th in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

There is “no need” for such a study, said an Interior Ministry spokesperson, according to Zeit Online.

Earlier in June, the Ministry announced they were carrying out a study to determine if Germany has “a racism problem,” saying that it was currently at a “conceptual stage”.

READ ALSO: Germany to set up investigation into police racism

The Ministry justified Seehofer's decision by stating that racial profiling is already prohibited in Germany’s police practice and therefore does not need to be separately examined. 

“In particular, checks on people must be carried out without discrimination,” the spokesperson told Zeit Online.

“Neither the federal police laws, nor the relevant regulations, permit such unequal treatment of people.”

According to the Ministry, such incidents are “absolutely exceptional cases”, and not part of a systematic problem.

“Individual cases of discrimination that become known are mercilessly investigated and promptly sanctioned,” they said.

The Ministry referred to a Federal Discrimination Agency which investigates these cases, as well as complaint offices within its 12 federal police departments. 

In October 2019, Germany also introduced a package of messages to combat right-wing extremism and hate crime, and that has been largely “largely implemented,” the spokesperson told Zeit Online.

This includes, among other things, the expansion of prevention work, easier identification of the originators of hate messages on the Internet and a tightening of penalties for “incitement to hatred and aggressive insults”. 

However, it does not mention potential racism among security agency employees.

Berlin became the first German state to pass its own anti-discrimination law in June. The law is aimed at stopping public authorities, including police, from discriminating based on factors such as skin colour, gender, background, religion, physical or mental disability, worldview, age, sexual identity or even language skills.

Policing in Germany 

German policing is dealt with at the state level, with the rules varying somewhat from state to state as to how police are allowed to carry out controls on members of the public.

Generally, however, there has to be a concrete suspicion that a crime has been committed. Police are not allowed to stop people based on appearance, for example through skin colour.

READ ALSO: Germany 'not doing enough to fight racism' as country sees rise in reported discrimination cases

A debate over the extent of racism in German police forces – specifically whether it is a structural issue or not – was sparked when Saskia Esken, the leader of the Social Democrats, told a newspaper that there was “latent racism in the police”.

Although Esken made clear that she believed that the vast majority of German police officers were not racist, her comments caused an angry backlash from conservative politicians and police unions.

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German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

German police drew criticism Tuesday for using an app to trace contacts from bars and restaurants in the fight against the pandemic as part of an investigation.

A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant.
A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The case stemming from November last year began after the fatal fall of a man while leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.