Surveillance state

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Surveillance cameras in London . Every citizen of the city is filmed by an average of 300 cameras every day. Automatic face recognition using cameras installed at eye level is also planned . According to studies, the massive surveillance has not reduced the crime rate.

In a surveillance state (rarely also a Big Brother state) , the state monitors its citizens on a large scale with a variety of different, state- legalized technical means. The term has a negative connotation and implies that the surveillance has reached such an extent that it has become an essential or even central feature of state action. Critics of such measures argue that the mass surveillance of the population harbors a multitude of dangers for democratic societies.

The novel 1984 by the British writer George Orwell , who also coined the term Big Brother, is considered a frequently cited negative example and a symbol of a surveillance state that has degenerated into a dictatorship . Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 , concerns about increasing state surveillance have led to increased public debates, in Germany for example under the catchphrase Stasi 2.0 , and to protests such as the freedom instead of fear demonstrations. Since the revelations of the extensive Internet and telecommunications surveillance by the USA and the United Kingdom as part of the global surveillance and espionage affair , the issue has been the subject of public and media debates again since mid-2013.

Definition and examples of effects

The term is mainly used by critics of the expansion of state surveillance measures. Proponents of such measures argue that they can prevent violations of the law and, if committed, efficiently prosecute them. Critics who point out the dangers and disadvantages are regularly countered with the argument that a “righteous citizen” basically “has nothing to hide”.


In a fully-fledged surveillance state, every citizen has all the information about his whereabouts, actions and the content and address data of his communication with others at all times.


Critics see several of the above-mentioned aspects as fulfilled at the latest by the controversial introduction of so-called data retention at European level, or by a large number of other already existing measures, for example in Germany.

This is in fundamental contradiction to the basic right to informational self-determination, which is established by the highest court in Germany . In addition, such a system is based on the basic assumption that every person is fundamentally a potential criminal and must therefore be monitored, which is incompatible with the basic ideas and the human image of a democratic state .

In addition, reference is often made to the various possibilities of misusing people's personal data profiles created in this way. A government that has come to power democratically could misuse an extensive surveillance system as a highly efficient tool to establish a dictatorship . Criminals can gain access to personal data via contact persons in the surveillance apparatus or collect them themselves in a targeted manner in order to use them for the purpose of blackmail , as there are already proven examples.

Proven extortion by secret service criminals

There was a serious example of the systematic abuse of such surveillance systems in Italy in 2006, in which several thousand people, with the participation of the security officer of Telecom Italia , organized crime and employees of various police units and secret services, were systematically bugged and blackmailed with this data. Was arrested at that time also Marco Mancini, the deputy head of the Italian military secret service SISMI , who played a leading role in the interception and blackmail ring, and in which in addition extensive documentation concerning the illegal spying on political opponents of the then heads of government Silvio Berlusconi found were. Roberto Preatoni, one of the key figures in the scandal, called the events so complex that they could "probably never be completely cleared up." Italian and US secret services, corrupt Italian police officers, and Italian and US security companies were involved. A sensation caused a sensation that the main witness for the prosecution, the former security officer of the mobile communications division of Telecom Italia, fell from a motorway bridge in unexplained circumstances in Naples one month after the discovery of the scandal and died.

Current payments

As a result of the war on terror that the USA declared after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 , new surveillance measures and laws were introduced in many countries and existing measures were tightened. Recently, the EU research project INDECT has been sharply criticized for developing a comprehensive monitoring system with a previously unseen scale and complexity. George Orwell described the prototype of a modern surveillance state that degenerated into a dictatorship in his novel 1984 , which is therefore often cited by surveillance critics as a negative example or as a warning. The term has been discussed again since the revelations by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden about various large-scale state surveillance programs such as PRISM and Tempora , see surveillance and espionage affair 2013 .

Methods, goals and criticism

The possible means of a surveillance state include, in addition to many other measures (see below), above all the long-term storage of telecommunications data including the whereabouts of mobile phone users, comprehensive video surveillance of public spaces, monitoring of the content of Internet data traffic , the unnoticed Electronic intrusion by government agencies into private computers (" online searches "), tracking of electronic payments with debit and credit cards and comprehensive monitoring of bank transfers. In a more severe scenario, the content-based, computer-aided monitoring of telephone calls (" wiretapping ") is one of the methods, which is already being carried out unofficially on a large scale worldwide , for example within the framework of the multinational secret service project Echelon .

The alleged goal of a surveillance state is to prevent citizens from violating the law and, if they are committed, to recognize them with a high success rate and to pursue them quickly and efficiently. Proponents cite the prevention of crime , organized crime and terrorism as reasons for establishing stronger surveillance of citizens. Critics, on the other hand, consider a surveillance state to be difficult or impossible to reconcile with a democracy and the basic freedom and democratic order and consider the alleged advantages in the fight against crime to be massively exaggerated or advanced. One of the dangers mentioned is that surveillance measures can cause those under surveillance to self-censure and thereby indirectly curtail the right to freedom of expression . For example, a study published in 2016 showed that test participants who were made aware of government surveillance were less likely to express an opinion that they believed was only represented by a minority . In addition, the risk of misuse of the personal data collected by people in the surveillance apparatus is often cited, for example for blackmail purposes. There are recent examples where this was done on a large scale by members of organized crime in collaboration with police and finance officials and telecommunications companies, with several thousand blackmailed victims.

Identifier of the surveillance state

In the surveillance state, according to their advocates, the findings from the surveillance are to be used mainly to prevent and punish violations of the law, as well as to obtain intelligence information about individuals and population groups. The prevention of criminal offenses and other undesirable behavior of the citizens takes place in the surveillance state through a high surveillance pressure. In various monitoring states, “preventive” arrests of monitored persons before events were or are customary in order to influence the public appearance of the events ( People's Republic of China , Nepal , Colombia , GDR , USSR ).

In the Federal Republic of Germany, people are rarely taken into preventive custody without being charged with a criminal offense. Before that, thought was given to arresting violent troublemakers preventively (for example in connection with the demonstrations at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm in 2007 ). At the end of 2011, the European Court of Human Rights awarded two plaintiffs compensation.

The surveillance state is characterized by the restriction of data protection , privacy and informational self-determination . Seen in this way, the right to informational self-determination is the direct opponent of the surveillance state. Examples of legal measures taken by a surveillance state are camera surveillance of public roads, squares and public transport, the routine creation of movement profiles , genetic databases ( genetic fingerprints ), biometric databases , comprehensive telecommunications surveillance, as well as the trawl and veil search and the one on January 1, 2008 in the European Union introduced data retention called. A new quality of state surveillance is currently being tested as part of the EU-funded INDECT research project . In this project, a large number of existing surveillance technologies are to be bundled into a universal surveillance instrument in order to enable crime-preventive police work ( Fusion Center ).

A precise demarcation between the surveillance state and the prevention state is difficult, since one merges into the other. In order to be able to carry out prevention in a meaningful way, extensive knowledge must first be gathered. Therefore, the term preventive state has in addition to the surveillance state indicates that information will be used from the surveillance of the state to violations of the law or unwelcome behavior in advance to determine (see. " Social control ").

Technologies / methods for monitoring

Control bridge over a motorway in Germany for automatic license plate recognition

The following technologies or methods can be used for monitoring:

The EU project INDECT

Critics see tendencies towards an overpowering surveillance state in the EU research project INDECT, which will run until 2013 . The project researches “preventive crime prevention” on the basis of the automated evaluation and linking of images from surveillance cameras in public spaces with a large number of other data sources (see above), such as data from social networks and telecommunications surveillance . Among other things, video analysis should automatically detect “abnormal behavior” of people in public.

Surveillance in the Federal Republic of Germany

The following monitoring technologies and measures are used in Germany or have been decided. Critics see clear steps here towards a surveillance state or its very existence.

The feasibility of some of the following steps is also being examined in Germany:

The following steps are being implemented:

Due to increasing surveillance measures in the so-called war on terror , the term Stasi 2.0 , based on the Ministry for State Security of the GDR and Web 2.0 , has spread as a critical catchphrase among data protectionists in Germany.


  • Soon after they came to power in 1933, the National Socialists introduced numerous state surveillance measures.
    • There were hundreds of thousands of low-ranking functionaries of the NSDAP and its subsidiary organizations such as the German Labor Front , NS-Frauenenschaft or NS-Volkswohlfahrt . For example, the block leaders had helpers (called block administrators , block helpers or caretakers ) who - often on a voluntary basis - worked for the NSDAP and / or National Socialist subsidiary organizations.
    • a chimney sweep law introduced sweeping district monopolies . This gave the chimney sweeps area-wide access to all attics and cellars; They could also use it to check whether there were people there (for example, hidden Jews) or whether there were any indications of illegal activities.
    • Voluntary denunciations from the population, who largely agreed with the National Socialists' goals, were of great importance. This is why the Canadian historian Robert Gellately speaks of a self-policing society.
  • Everyday life in the GDR included the comprehensive surveillance of almost everything and almost everyone. The State Security Service ( the Stasi for State Security for short ) monitored all areas of society in East Germany and created files for all persons and activities assessed as " hostile-negative " (MfS parlance). In 1989 the Stasi employed around 91,000 full-time employees and an estimated 189,000 unofficial employees . (See also police state )

Surveillance in Austria

The Austrian heraldic animal has surveillance cameras instead of heads on this pochoir to symbolize a "surveillance state Austria"
This pochoir criticizes the introduction of biometric data on Austrian passports

In Austria, after court approval, computer searches and eavesdropping are permitted. Austrian passports contain microchips on which biometric data and fingerprints are stored.

In September 2007, the President warned of the Constitutional Court , Karl Korinek from slipping Austria into a police state: "... I sometimes have the impression that we are similarly heavily monitored as it did the East Germans from the Stasi  ..." . In October of the same year, Hans Zeger , Chairman of ARGE Daten , commented on the recently announced agreement of the SPÖ / ÖVP coalition regarding the monitoring of private computers using malware as "... we are already living in a Stasi-like monitoring system ..." .

With the amendment to the SPG in December 2007, the police can access IP addresses and location data from cell phones from 2008 without judicial control.

In February 2018, the new ÖVP-FPÖ government decided on a package of surveillance measures. Among other things, it gives authorities access to the video and sound monitoring of all public and private facilities, eliminates the possibility of purchasing prepaid or SIM cards without specifying one's identity and introduces the automatic recording of drivers and license plates of all cars.

Surveillance in Sweden

The FRA law allows the Swedish state to eavesdrop on telephone and internet connections coming in or going out across its borders.

Surveillance in France

In France, a decree since July 1, 2008, has been used by the domestic secret service DCRI ( Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur ) to collect data on potential violent criminals from the age of 13 in the database "Edvige" (exploitation documentaire et valorisation de l'information générale). These can be collected even if the person has not committed a crime. The stored data includes information on addresses, marital status, tax, criminal record, registration of the car, circle of acquaintances, physical and personality characteristics, photos and in exceptional cases also on ethnic origin, health and sex life. It is also possible to store data of people who hold a political, union or economic mandate or who may intend to play an important role in public life. The decree also applies to individuals or groups who could potentially disrupt public order.

Surveillance of the USA

The surveillance program of George W. Bush in 2006 caused a serious scandal, so that the issue of the German Spiegel Online magazine referred to him as "George Orwell". The reason was that the then US president had created one of the largest secret databases that ever existed. The MP from the Democratic camp, Maurice Hinchey, described the scandal as the "Big Brother program". The reason for this "eavesdropping attack" was to uncover "behavior patterns suspected of terrorism" via telephone. The NSA subsequently filtered out suspicious information.

In April 2013, a decision by the secret court was made Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ( court for international monitoring ) in the case of TOP SECRET file BR 15-80 which authorizes the US government to a renewed monitoring program than in June 2013 PRISM project was made known by whistleblower Edward Snowden and sparked the surveillance and espionage affair in 2013. The contents of the file were first published in the Guardian of London . In early June 2013, Spiegel Online awarded Obama the title of George W. Obama . The reason for this is the extensive surveillance activities of the NSA in the USA and worldwide with regard to telephone and Internet. According to the information published, the NSA has been collecting data from every telephone call made and the information stored on the websites of Verizon, Google, Apple, AOL, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft for years.

Surveillance in China

In China's cities, video surveillance is widely used on streets and public places. According to a report by the New York Times , the state had installed around 200 million surveillance cameras in public by mid-2018 . The authorities use to evaluate the images among other Facebook ++ - image or facial recognition software from Megvii .


films and series

Fictional literature

Computer games


  • "Those who give up freedom to gain temporary security deserve neither freedom nor security." ( Benjamin Franklin , 1706–1790)

("He, who trades freedom for temporary security, deserves neither freedom nor security.")

  • “He who prefers security to freedom is rightly a slave.”  - Aristotle
  • “He who controls the past controls the future; he who controls the present controls the past! ”  - George Orwell , from the novel 1984
  • "A state that constantly monitors its citizens by declaring that it wants to prevent criminal offenses, can be called a police state."  - ( Ernst Benda , former President of the Federal Constitutional Court)

See also


Individual evidence

  1. Reiner Luyken: Big Brother is really a Brit. ZEIT online, January 16, 2007
  2. ^ Gregor Waschinski: Fighters against the surveillance state. Frankfurter Rundschau, June 10, 2013
  3. a b c Criminal network eavesdrop on thousands of celebrities. Spiegel online, September 21, 2006
  4. a b Patrick Radden Keefe: Italy's Watergate. , July 27, 2006
  5. John Leyden: Preatoni breaks silence over Telecom Italia spying probe. The Register, April 14, 2008
  6. Elizabeth Stoycheff: Under Surveillance: Examining Facebook's Spiral of Silence Effects in the Wake of NSA Internet Monitoring , 2016, doi: 10.1177 / 1077699016630255 . Quoted from: Karen Turner: Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study. Washington Post, March 28, 2016, accessed October 14, 2016 .
  7. ^ Two Islamists arrested in Munich ,
  8. ^ Preventive in custody: "Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) affirmed on Friday that, according to the existing legal situation, violent troublemakers can be arrested preventively." ( Memento from December 19, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  9. In Netzeitung of May 12, 2007
  10. Independent State Center for Data Protection Schleswig-Holstein - Tax ID from July 1, 2007: The chaining can begin ( Memento from July 18, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  11. ARD - Report on the tax identification number video (13MB)
  12. Ministry of the Interior accelerates plans for central register from February 7, 2008
  13. Schäuble puts pressure on the central resident registration database from June 27, 2008
  14. Jetscan website ( Memento from June 29, 2012 in the Internet Archive ): “With the optional serial number recording, an unsurpassed counterfeit recognition is achieved. The serial numbers of all banknotes can be recorded and saved - for 1,200 banknotes per minute! There are various solutions to save the numbers in a database and to find them again for later tracing. "
  15. ^ National income database ELENA decided by on June 25, 2008
  16.,c6bjjejdq16yq0my~cm.asp - Secret account inquiries - How authorities proceed - plusminus March 11, 2008 (link no longer available)
  17. Federal Cabinet passes law on the biometric identity card of July 23, 2008
  18. Christian Kerl: Identity card: fingerprints will be mandatory from 2020. In: . February 19, 2019, accessed May 14, 2020 .
  19. ^ Associations call for biometric controls at German airports from June 27, 2008
  20. Berlin wants to test video surveillance with biometric face recognition from September 9, 2008
  21. Big Brother Award 2004 in the category "Health and Social Affairs" BigBrotherAwards October 28, 2007
  22. Data protectionists criticize medical reporting of piercings and tattoos from June 30, 2008
  23. Credit cards and book money
  24. Bundestag wants to compulsory time recording FAZ from June 25, 2008
  25. Big Brother is watching ( Memento from April 18, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) ARTE June 19, 2006
  26. Use and legal situation of cell phone location determination ( PDF ) Netzeitung from September 8, 2007
  27. Independent State Center for Data Protection - Will the driver soon be under electronic total control? ( Memento from January 1, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  28. From the anti-terror legislation via the anti-terror file to the "Schäuble catalog" ct of February 28, 2007
  29. EU interior ministers agree on the exchange of DNA data and fingerprints on June 12, 2007
  30. EU countries are striving for more data exchange at from July 6, 2008
  31. EU diplomats bless flight data agreement with the USA from on June 29, 2007
  32. Bundestag nods agreement on the transfer of passenger data from on November 16, 2007
  33. FBI wants more private data from EU citizens from June 29, 2008
  34. Bundestag confirms agreement on data transfer to the USA of July 6, 2009
  35. Recommendations of the Federal Council's committees on the draft law on identity cards : Printed matter 550/1/08 of September 8, 2008 ( Memento of August 31, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 60 kB)
  36. Berliner Zeitung: Secret Service targets children February 20, 2009
  37. Detlef Schmiechen-Ackermann : The "Blockwart". The lower party functionaries in the National Socialist terror and surveillance apparatus. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte . 48, No. 4 (2000), pp. 575-602, online .
  38. ^ Robert Gellately: The Gestapo and the German Society. On the genesis of a self-monitoring society. In: Detlef Schmiechen-Ackermann (ed.): Adaptation - Denial - Resistance. Social milieus, political culture and the resistance against National Socialism in Germany in a regional comparison. German Resistance Memorial Center, Berlin 1997, pp. 109–121.
  39. Cf. Jens Gieseke : The full-time employees of the State Security , Berlin 2000, p. 557, ISBN 3-86153-227-1 .
  40. Focus Online: GDR history: More Stasi informers than expected , viewed on July 12, 2010.
  41. Federal Agency for Civic Education Everything under control?
  42. ^ Tilman Wittenhorst: Austria relies on surveillance. In: Heise online . February 21, 2018, accessed February 22, 2018 .
  43. Intelligence Database "Edvige" disturbed the public Accessed on 23 July 2008
  44. potential violent offender. Accessed on July 23, 2008
  45. Marc Pitzke: US wiretapping scandal: George Orwell, 2006 , Spiegel May 12, 2006
  46. Obama is expanding the US into a surveillance state - SPIEGEL ONLINE
  47. Surveillance state in China: cameras and robots in Beijing. In: Spiegel Online Video. Retrieved May 14, 2020 .
  48. Paul Motor: Inside China's Dystopian Dreams: AI, Shame and lots of cameras. In: July 8, 2018, accessed May 14, 2020 .
  49. Big Brother made in China. In: Spiegel Online Video. February 9, 2018, accessed May 14, 2020 .

Web links

Wiktionary: surveillance state  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations