Yes, German Authorities Are Pushing Treason Charges Against Netzpolitik For Publishing Surveillance Plans

from the this-is-ridiculous dept

A few weeks ago, we reported that it appeared German investigators were investigating the excellent German news site Netzpolitik, which covers a lot of the same issues that we do at Techdirt, with a similar sensibility. Netzpolitik had just published stories concerning plans to expand German bulk surveillance efforts to internet users, as well as plans by the German Secret Service to expand its internet surveillance capabilities. As part of this, the site (like we do) published source documents concerning those plans. The site’s editor-in-chief Markus Beckedahl, noted:

Naturally, we uploaded the original documents relating to our article because there was still enough disk space and because it is part of our philosophy to enable our readers to inform themselves using the original source. Thus, they can scrutinise us and our reporting.

This resulted in claims of an investigation for “treason,” though some later clarified that it appeared that the investigation was into who leaked the info to Nezpolitik, and the site’s staff were seen as witnesses, rather than potential defendants. Except… nope. It looks like the original fears were accurate.

Netzpolitik has received a letter from the German government telling it that Netzpolitik staffers are being investigated for treason:

If it were up to the Federal Attorney General and the President of the German Domestic Security Agency, two of our reporters would soon be in prison for at least two years. Today, we were officially informed about investigations against our Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister and an “unknown” party. The accusation: Treason.

Today, we received a letter from the Federal Attorney General of Germany confirming ongoing investigations against our reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister and an “unknown” source, suspecting us of treason according to the German Penal Code:

Whosoever [?] allows a state secret to come to the attention of an unauthorised person or to become known to the public in order to prejudice the Federal Republic of Germany or benefit a foreign power and thereby creates a danger of serious prejudice to the external security of the Federal Republic of Germany, shall be liable to imprisonment of not less than one year.

Until now, we were reported merely as witnesses in the case, but now we shall be held responsible (for treason) like our unknown source(s) ? as joint principals.

As Netzpolitik itself notes, this is an incredible attack on the freedom of the press, and the site says it’s geared up to fight. Either way, this should really call into question the priorities of the German government, looking to intimidate reporters, rather than hold an open debate about surveillance practices. Makes you wonder what else they’re afraid is going to come out….

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Comments on “Yes, German Authorities Are Pushing Treason Charges Against Netzpolitik For Publishing Surveillance Plans”

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David says:

Re: Re:

As mentioned before, you only need to go back to the Spiegel affair where Franz Josef Strauß ultimately had to step down as defense minister for ministering the arrest of Spiegel journalists and lying about it before parliament.

While some state that the opposition and/or SPD have grown weaker since that time, the actual reason then was that the coalition party F.D.P. had all of their five ministers step down in protest. At that time this party which has become insignificant since then bothered a lot about liberty with regard to civil rights. They have since then (with the exception of too few iconic personalities) shifted their focus to the liberation of money and were in turn liberated from significant votes cast in their direction.

At any rate, these historic events show the importance of proportional voting system rather than winner-takes-all: with a reasonably non-uniform constitution of the government, the amount of corners the people at the helm can cut is limited.

It’s not a cure-all of course: the current two-party coalition in Germany is of the one-worse-than-the-other variety concerning civil liberties.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t believe ordinary Germans are turning back to fascism. It’s far simpler to assume the NSA spying on German politicians has turned up enough dirt on them that the US can blackmail them into doing anything the USA pleases. What’s Germany going to do about it? Declare war on the USA for tapping Germans’ phone calls?

I’ve gotta hand it to the USA. This is first rate imperialism on their part of which the old empires could only dream.

David says:

Yes! Finally!

It previously appeared very much that the Generalbundesanwalt (Attorney General) was incapable of prosecuting treason at all. Obviously he had a change of mind and is finally dusting off the necessary lawbooks and tools.

And because the secret services are a really big target, he is doing a practice run on a safe sparring partner certain to go unscathed before he tackles the big one and calls quits on the unconstitutional and treasonous BND serfdom to the NSA.

I mean, that’s the only interpretation that makes even remote sense, right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well to get specific, I think one can differentiate between acts that are treasonous or disobedient, and I think it hinges on force and violence.

Once things become organized and violent (i.e. civil war/revolution), the anti-establishment forces are clearly treasonous, regardless of the motivation.

However the press pointing out to the public the secret duplicities, repressions, and crimes of the state is not treason. It is disobedient, since the state kept it a secrect, but the lack of violence is important and vital. Instead it is a peaceful call to reform a corruption. As is the point of the article, this can’t happen without a press willing and able to report.

psiu says:


Today in The Hague, the United States sued Germany at the World Court for infringing on their patented, trademarked, copyrighted, tattooed AND dittoed process for suppressing citizens and an open society.

US attaché Lance de Boyle said Germany’s attack on the press was an obvious attempt to cash in on the Administration’s tactics over the past several years. “We’ve made a mockery of the claims and promises we ran on, like being open and transparent, and attacking the press, attacking those who expose our underhanded dealing is a crucial part of that process. If Germany keeps this up, we may be forced to expose Merkel and her preference for French baguettes over sauerkraut.”

German spokesman Werner Schnitzel said they were reviewing the claims at this time and had no further comment, other than to reiterate the Chancellor’s fondness for sauerkraut, bratwurst, and bier.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: investigation suspendend

The investigation is suspended but not over. Currently they are waiting for an expert to assess if the things published were secret or not. Interesting to compare that to the NSA case in which they did the checking and then never pressed charges here in this case they are pressing charges then do the checking.

Anyway… the whole suspended thing only means as Beckedahl puts it, their houses won’t be searched in the next few days but everything beyond that is unclear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: investigation suspendend

I’d say “much more known”. They have always been credible. Heck, iirc they even have or had for sometime a personal guard to make sure they don’t record any audio or video of a Bundestag session. You don’t get that kind of special treatment unless you are known to write the truth.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know what the German laws are but in the US it’s possible the reporters could be charged as “accessory to the fact” or “accessory after the fact” since the burden of proof for treason is higher. The one(s) who actually provided the document(s) is(are) the one(s) who would be charged with treason.

Getting a conviction is another story. Like the article states the actions of the government may be more for intimidation rather than actually prosecuting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sure, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court,” but that won’t stop US politicians and TV newspeople from pretending it’s treason.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, not formally. But Snowden gets a lot of “traitor” from government officials nevertheless, and he is charged under the “espionage act” which is not all that much removed from a treason charge (the Rosenbergs were charged under that act for treason and executed). The espionage act allows Snowden only a factual defense, and the facts, namely that he handed a stash of classified documents to journalists, are not disputed by him. So basically, Snowden is not allowed to defend himself, with charges in a ballpark right next to treason.

There is no death penalty in Germany, so Snowden is not really in any manner better off in the U.S. than he’d had been under similar circumstances in Germany.

Anonymous Coward says:

I guess those in charge in Germany really don’t give a dam about how they act towards their citizens anymore.7-80 years and most people from that era would be dead by now. By deleting the Nazis from german history they have done a lovely job of setting it up to happen again by making it next to impossible for the newer generations to learn from the older ones mistakes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not that the newer generation can’t learn from the older ones mistakes but that the Gov seems blind on the right eye. They try to increase the fear of terrorism all while every other day a rightwing read neonazi grp burns down another home created for asylum seeking people. Some days ago those people seeking for asylum didn’t even move in and the building was burning.

Also the gov grp who started the whole thing against Netzpolitik has that many undercover agents and informants in the right scene that
1. few years back the gov couldn’t close a political neonazi party because most of the members were from the agency to protect the constituion or working for them.
2. most right wing attacks were financed by them. the NSU (National Social Underground) f.e. received thousands of Euro from the agency while killing people. Indirectly because they payed their guy who gave the money to the NSU but still…
They even burned files during the trial against the NSU because who could have thought people would need files during a trial, right?

Most of the Germans aren’t right even the younger ones but some gov agency looks away when it comes to rightwing crimes and turns that eye to the left f.e. they were told to clean up their domestic terrorist database and when they did they had to remove about 80-90% of leftwing terrorism because as it turned out those were ppl who just took part in a demonstration and did nothing else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Funny thing

One point that wasn’t mentioned is that the VDS ( storing all german traffic aka every german is a terrorist) is up to be renewed in fall.

With the treason charge against NP they (NP) can be monitored for months if not years. Every phone call, website the open or anything they do on the net is allowed to be recored by the Gov. A source wants to leak further information to them? Too bad, they can’t because if they do they will be caught.

Taken from Markus Kompa’s piece:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Funny thing

Imho, the whole thing against Netzpolitik is a measure to make sure that people who (might) speak against the Gov can be tracked and apprehended if nessesary.

You worry about the UK and their 1984ish state? Just watch the next 10 years. In 100 years our grand children will ask “Why didnt they act?” and their history teacher will say “Because they didn’t know better.”

David says:

Re: Re: Funny thing

In 100 years our grand children will ask “Why didnt they act?” and their history teacher will say “Because they didn’t know better.”

In 100 years our grand children will ask “How high should I jump?”. What we are risking with our lethargy is not as much them being ashamed of us but rather us being ashamed of them.

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