Surveilling Democracy

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A high court ruled Monday that Germany’s domestic intelligence service can continue to spy on the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party after the agency labeled the far-right movement as a “suspected extremist case,” the Washington Post reported.

The case began in 2021 when the AfD sued the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) over the designation, which allows the agency to monitor groups or parties that threaten Germany’s democratic order through the use of wiretaps and informants.

In its assessment, the BfV issued the designation based on analyzing publicly available information, including the party’s eurosceptic and anti-immigrant platforms, as well as individual members.

The AfD criticized the decision as an attempt to discredit the party, but the Cologne Administrative Court rejected the argument in 2022, saying that there were “sufficient indications of anti-constitutional goals within the AfD.”

On Monday, the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster also rejected the AfD’s complaint, ruling that it “has no right to demand that the BfV refrain from monitoring it.” Lawyers of the AfD plan to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, government officials welcomed the verdict, adding that it showed that the “state has instruments that protect our democracy from threats from within.”

Established in 2013, the anti-immigrant group has gained popularity in recent months and could garner the most votes in three upcoming state elections.

However, it has seen a decrease in support after reports showed that senior AfD politicians attended a secret meeting among far-right and extremist groups earlier this year, where they discussed the forced deportation of migrants.

That revelation prompted nationwide protests calling for banning the party and its youth organization, the “Junge Alternative” (JA).

Legal analysts said the BfV could collect enough evidence to label the party as “confirmed extremist,” a designation that could start the process to ban it – even though that would take years.

Even so, observers noted that the BfV’s investigation clashes with Germany’s strong adherence to data privacy rights and its dark history regarding government surveillance.

Under the Nazi regime, the Gestapo secret police had a fearsome reputation for surveillance and a large network of informants. And during the Cold War, East Germany’s Stasi secret police employed sophisticated and intrusive tactics to spy on citizens.

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