House searches of net activists
Chaos Computer Club criticizes police action
Police have searched club rooms and homes of net activists. Those affected are only witnesses, but documents and technology have been confiscated. This raises questions of proportionality.
By Maik Baumgärtner, Martin Knobbe and Vanessa Schlesier
Evidence object from the OpenLab in Augsburg: object from the 3D printer
At the instigation of the Munich Public Prosecutor's Office, the premises of the Dresdner Verein Zwiebelfreunde and the apartments of board members in Berlin, Dresden, Augsburg and Jena were searched on June 20. In addition to hard disks, mobile phones and computer technology, police officers also confiscated a number of documents such as donation receipts and membership lists from previous years. The Augsburg premises of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) were also searched.
The broad police action raises questions of proportionality. The Munich public prosecutor's office is looking for the authors of the blog "Augsburg for riot tourists", which called for violent protests against the AfD federal party conference last weekend. The anonymous blog operators published an e-mail address for contacting the US-American technology collective RiseUp.
The association Zwiebelfreunde has been collecting donations for the alternative and non-commercial provider for years, whose services for confidential communication are mainly used by social movements worldwide. This is obviously the only reason why the German investigators took such massive action against the association.
Early morning search
Two weeks ago, shortly after 6 o'clock, the doorbell rang at the apartment door of the co-founder and board member of the Zwiebelfreunde, Moritz Bartl, in Augsburg. The investigators informed Bartl that they wanted to find out the identities of the initiators of the blog. According to Bartls, they took not only equipment and documents of the association, but also equipment and documents of his company as well as personal belongings of family members.
"Since then, normal work has been virtually impossible," says Bartl, who is not considered an accused person in the trial, but merely a witness - like everyone else searched. "I had to take a vacation. We are still trying to process what has happened."
"A call from the prosecution could have cleared all this up."
Bartl cannot explain the massive action of the police: "As experts in anonymization and encryption, we are regularly invited as speakers by police authorities. A call to the prosecution could have cleared all this up."
The onion friends were founded in 2011 and the association operates so-called Tor nodes, which serve to make the Tor network anonymous. Its members give lectures and workshops on data security, encryption and anonymization. They have also been working for years with NGOs such as Reporters Without Borders. The Dresden Institute for Data Protection, which advises companies and authorities, is a cooperation partner of the association.
Founder Bartl therefore suspects completely different motives of the authorities: "The extensive confiscations, also of documents of uninvolved projects, reinforce the impression that information about CCC Augsburg, our association and supporters should be collected here.
According to SPIEGEL information, only documents and data carriers no older than January 2018 should be confiscated. In fact, the documents confiscated date back to 2011 - which, according to those involved, was also evident to the officials.
"The search of witnesses is absolutely disproportionate."
Constanze Kurz, spokeswoman of the Chaos Computer Club, who has been working closely with the onion friends for years, sharply criticises the authorities' actions: "Searching witnesses is absolutely disproportionate, people are treated like criminals, and all they do is collect donations.
She emphasized that CCC data was also affected, since documents of the Executive Board were confiscated in Augsburg. "The case is a prime example of how excessive police action has a massive impact on people's lives and work," says Kurz.
At the request of the SPIEGEL, the responsible police did not want to comment. The Munich Public Prosecutor's Office announced that the persons affected by the search were not suspicious and that the evaluation of the confiscated computers and data carriers is continuing.
A scene during the search of the OpenLab project in Augsburg operated by Bartl seems curious: The officers found chemical formulas on a blackboard and various chemicals in the same room. They immediately took all those present, including Bartl, into custody and searched other rooms.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
Translation: “This is obviously the only reason why the German investigators took such massive action against the association.” (which reads very nearly like an editorial stance, not like dry newsprint, which is much more the actual tone of the German article)
The actual meaning is more along the lines of: “This seems to be the only reason why the German investigators took such massive action against the association.” (but “seems” might be to weak, however, “obvious” is definitely too strong).
Word for word this translation of “obvious” is correct, but the meaning this turn of phrase takes in journalistic writing in German is slightly different: It’s more along the lines of “this is so far we know now the only obvious explanation for this, we couldn’t find out about any other reason”.
It works as a sort of disclaimer, cautioning the reader that there could be as of yet unknown other factors involved, but at least those other factors aren’t anything obvious.
(Slight meaning distorting error, but interpretable with context “A call to the prosecution” should be “A call of the prosecution”. The difficulty is here that the German text could be interpreted both ways and in German it’s the context that determines the meaning.)
Also, the last paragraph is missing:
In a very short time it became clear what the detainees had already explained on the spot, according to their own statements: The chemicals were standard accessories for 3D printing and etching of circuit boards. Also, an object from the 3D printer, in the form of a bomb, landed in a bag of evidence. The corresponding inscription lists the offence "causing an explosive explosion". The item can be seen in action here on YouTube.
Thanks for taking the last paragraph through deepl.com. Also, if you look at the translation on deepl.com and click on the specific phrases, you will find various alternative translations that specific phrase. I am not sure if the specific meaning-distortion you mentioned would have the right alternative, but still I enjoy the fact that you can easily rephrase certain passages.
What little I know at this point, is compatible with both “the police stopped some bad guys” and “the police mistook chemistry nerds for a threat”.
They didn't. They searched witnesses. Or "witnesses" because they were forwarding donations to riseup. Mozilla is donating to riseup too btw. So this is about on par as searching and confiscating random stuff at Mozilla's offices.
Not personally a fan of riseup, but that's fucked up.