re:publica-Panel am 3. Mai 2016 in Berlin ICS

Bürgerrechte einklagen

How to defend Civil Liberties with Lawsuits - and kick governments' butts in the process

am Dienstag, 3. Mai 2016,
von 10:30 bis 11:00 Uhr
im Rahmen der re:publica TEN
in der STATION Berlin, 
Luckenwalder Str. 4-6, 10963 Berlin
Stage 2

mit Matthias Spielkamp, Vorstandsmitglied von Reporter ohne Grenzen,
und Ulf Buermeyer, Autor auf
Veranstaltung auf Englisch

In order to stand up to unlawful government surveillance and to defend our digital civil rights, we have to use all means available to us: technology, politics, and the courts.

Government oversight over intelligence agencies, if at all existent, is often toothless, especially when exerted by parliaments. Therefore, courts are frequently the last resort for citizens to turn to, and in many cases they have been much more aggressive than politicians in curtailing the executive branch’s powers. Layman v. Obama and ACLU v. Clapper are prominent examples from the US.

In Germany, the practice of strategic litigation is in its infancy - for legal reasons (there are no class action lawsuits) but also for lack of experience and political will. Therefore, the lawsuit filed by Reporters without Borders Germany against the BND, arguing that the BND’s data collection and analysis is unlawful, is a unique opportunity to test whether these kinds of lawsuits can be successfully employed to challenge surveillance and protect and foster civil liberties in Germany. Chances are high it will end up at Germany’s Constitutional Court.

To see what’s possible it is worthwhile looking at other EU countries, first and foremost the UK. Civil rights groups like Privacy International, Open Rights Group, Amnesty International, Liberty, English PEN and others have aggressively sued the GCHQ numerous times. Despite many setbacks, the lawsuits have by now uncovered many new aspects of British surveillance practices and the government’s strategies to either hide or justify them. One of the cases will be tried by the European Court of Human Rights, and the UK government has until March 21 to react to the claimants’ allegations.

In this workshop we will present the latest developments in the different cases. We will also discuss and develop strategies for how we can challenge governments’ wrongdoing on more fronts in order to defend civil rights.

The speakers:

Matthias Spielkamp, board member, Reporters Without Borders Germany: Matthias is publisher of, covering legal issues in the digital age (winner of the Grimme Online Award). As a founding partner at the iRights.Lab think tank, he advises public institutions, NGOs and private companies on online journalism, communication strategies and information security. Matthias held teaching assignments at various universities, is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and testified several times before German parliamentary committees. He co-authored three books on journalism and copyright, serves on the board of the German chapter of Reporters Without Borders (pro bono) and is a member of the American Council on Germany as a former McCloy Fellow.

Ulf Buermeyer, author, Ulf studied law in Leipzig, Berlin & Paris. Since 2007 he has worked at various courts, including the German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe where he clerked for Justices Hassemer and Vosskuhle. While seconded to the Berlin Department of Justice he drafted the Code on Data Protection & Freedom of Information for Berlin's prisons. Ulf is currently a judge at Berlin Superior Court (Landgericht). Other than in criminal law & privacy, Ulf is deeply interested in computer science & software engineering. He has written software since he got a C64 for his 10th birthday. At present he codes mostly for iOS and builds backends in PHP & Swift. Ulf is a member of Digitale Gesellschaft e.V. (@Digiges) and a regular contributor to

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