German and U.S. Telecommunications Privacy Law: Legal Regulation of Domestic Law Enforcement Surveillance
Author(s): Paul M. Schwartz
Abstract: The legal systems of Germany and the United States contain detailed rules that regulate the surveillance of telecommunications by domestic law enforcement agencies. An initial question about this surveillance concerns the relative levels of such activity in Germany and the United States. This Article demonstrates, however, that the available statistics do not permit the drawing of conclusions about the relative amount of surveillance in the two countries. Any comparison based on these data sets proves to be illusory – the official statistics in Germany and the U.S. measure different phenomenon.
Despite an absence of a basis for an empirical exploration of relative levels of telecommunications surveillance in Germany and the U.S., it is possible to compare the applicable legal regulations in the two countries. This Article examines both constitutional and statutory regulations. It finds that the U.S. Supreme Court has developed a restrictive vision of the Fourth Amendment that extends its protections only to telecommunications content, but not telecommunications attributes. In contrast, the German Federal Constitutional Court has interpreted Article 10 of the Basic Law, the postwar German constitution, as protecting not only telecommunications content but also telecommunications attributes.
This Article also examines the statutory law that governs telecommunications surveillance in Germany and the U.S. It evaluates six categories: (1) legal protection for telecommunications information; (2) legal protection for connection data; (3) legal protection for stored data; (4) legal requirements for data retention or data erasure; (5) legal protection for contents of telecommunications; and (6) the nature of available remedies. In a final section, this Article examines three possible “X factors,” beyond the surveillance regulations expressed in legal regulations, that may affect law enforcement behavior in carrying out telecommunications surveillance in the two countries.
Keywords: surveillance of telecommunications, Germany, Article 10 of the Basic Law. connection data, stored data