The number of so-called account retrieval procedures, in which the state gains unnoticed insight into the bank accounts of private individuals, is rising rapidly: In 2021, the German state accessed private accounts in 1.14 million cases. The question of the proportionality of the use of the instrument is open.
Nearly quadrupling since 2015
It is known that the use of account access has increased sharply, especially since 2015. Most of the retrievals are made by social welfare authorities, tax offices and bailiffs. Last year, 85 percent of retrievals were made in the context of enforcement proceedings. 146,344 retrievals were initiated by tax offices, while police and constitutional protection authorities accessed private accounts a total of around 1,000 times. These figures became known through the inquiry of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag. In the answer, the federal government also pointed out that the million mark in queries was exceeded for the first time in 2020. In 2019, the total number of account retrieval procedures had still been 915,257.
No transparency regarding effectiveness
There is no transparency with regard to the effectiveness of the instrument: in its response to the question, the German government stated that it had no knowledge of what successes the use of the account retrieval procedures had led to. This can be attributed primarily to the lack of a central evaluation office. The retrievals are carried out centrally by the Federal Central Tax Office (Bundeszentralamt für Steuern). However, this office subsequently passes on the results of the retrievals to the requesting authority, which then processes the data and no longer provides feedback on the extent to which they were useful for its purpose.
Meanwhile, the sharp increase in retrievals in recent years is probably also related to a significant expansion of the legitimate bodies. In 2015, for example, the then red-green federal government decided to also grant bailiffs the right to retrieve accounts. In the meantime, data can be accessed for outstanding payments of as little as 500 euros.
1.14 million encroachments on fundamental rights
The Federal Data Protection Commissioner, Ulrich Kelber, has already criticized the massive expansion of the use of account retrieval procedures in the past. In this context, he points out that each retrieval represents an encroachment on the right to informational self-determination – and thus must be well justified. Against this background, he doubts that the use is appropriate and calls on the incumbent federal government to conduct an evaluation. Against the backdrop of the data protection efforts displayed by the federal government in the area of AI deployment, for example, the development in this area, which is also very sensitive to data protection, is astonishing.