Thursday, February 25, 2016

German man writes harmless Facebook post - gets police visit at work

From our There is no mass surveillance - now, delete the Facebook post that claims otherwise series.

In the days post Snowden, a young German invited people via Facebook for a stroll around an NSA compound in southern Germany. This completely legal activity brought him a visit by a couple of curious government men who wanted to ensure there was nothing sinister to the invite and who recommended to register the walk as a demonstration.

Fast forward a few years, and a bit of background.

There are elections in several German states in March 2016, one of the states is Rheinland-Pfalz, home of a place the US military affectionately calls K-Town, Kaiserslautern, several air bases, Landstuhl hospital. The state is also home of BASF, one of the most important chemical manufacturing complexes in the world - it is so big that you may wonder how it fits into such a small state. Besides that, not much is going on apart from wine making and farming, both of cattle and wind generators.

Wait, up in the north, there is Germany's most famous auto racetrack, the Nuerburg Ring. This website loads very slowly, a certainly unintended but fitting metaphor for the venerable track built in the 1920s.
The winding track had its great days but lost out to faster, more convenient Hockenheim.

Since German governments of all persuasions love infrastructure - more than people, but I digress - it ended up in government hands. Half a billion Euros and a couple of bankruptcies later, it is now safely owned by a group that includes a Russian oligarch.

Emotions around the track run high this election season, with one particular group of dedicated users - bikers, especially unhappy about the prospect of losing access or having to pay big money for it.

Little wonder then, that citizens posted on Facebook about the upcoming election speech of the state's prime minister in the nearest town.

One poster was a Mr. Lemmer. His post was: "Da geht’s rund !!!! froilein.“ Which kind of translates (using Duden as the baseline) as "Gonna be busy, Fraulein". It can also mean "some action", or the like. In terms of an election meet up, it really means there's going to be some heated arguments.

Imagine 50 year old Mr. Lemmer, a hard working German whose only vice is motorcycle riding, being visited at work by police inquiring whether his post was a call for violence.

In German surveillance lingo, he was flagged as a "Gefährder" by the local domestic intelligence folks, the people who do not perform any mass surveillance of social media. The term is another gem of bureaucratic awfulness because it makes a non-existent threat sound like something worth looking into. The term suggests a potential threat to public safety (that's as best as dictionaries translate it).

According to the newspaper that broke the story, the interior ministry spokesperson said "The subject apologized for the post and told the officers he did not even intend to go to the event. In the eyes of the police, this matter is resolved."

The story is interesting beyond German authorities showing signs of overreaction heretofore mostly associated with some under educated US sheriff's deputy.

First and foremost, it belies the mantra of German law enforcement and domestic intelligence agencies that they don't have enough resources and personnel to cope with social media.

Finding a nonsensical post, running the poster's details through the databases and coming up empty-handed, then sending two officers (the report only says "officers", so two it was) out to quiz the man, does not mean you are somehow short on tech and manpower.

Next, it is probable that the gentleman will now be in a database for some time. It doesn't matter whether in a simple incident reporting database, an intelligence analysis database, or one of the weird and scary force protection databases. If he doesn't end up in one, he should consider himself lucky.

But relax, there is no mass surveillance in Germany.
Fun fact: Not even by the two agencies that called the blogster's unregistered land line within a few hours after it** published the hard hitting Snowden era post The Spin Doctor is in.

Pro tip: If you intend to call the blogster's number to pull a "sorry, wrong number" stunt, do your agency a favor and have either a child or a nice old lady make the call. Law enforcement or military voices are just not discreet enough. The blogster has been around you guys for too long to not notice.

** The blogster is gender neutral, as requested by TheEditor.

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