New German “Whistleblower” Law Revives Fears of Soviet Secret Police

A new law passed by Germany’s leftist government and billed as a “whistleblower protection measure” draws comparisons to the Ministry for State Security (STASI), the secret police in Soviet-controlled East Germany from 1950 to 1990.

The German law, which officially went into effect in July, requires all companies with 50 or more employees, as well as government agencies, to establish “secure internal channels” to report alleged violations of German statutes or government regulations and creates strong confidentiality protections for whistleblowers.

More controversially, the law also creates several new offices within the German government dedicated to handling reported violations. The main federal office, with 22 employees, will cost German taxpayers 5 million euros per year. If German firms refuse to comply with the law, they will be slapped with a €20,000 fine.

The German government passed the law after some delay in order to comply with a 2019 European Union directive ordering all member states to adopt more legal protections for whistleblowers.

Notably, however, Germany went far beyond the E.U. directive to include legal protections for individuals reporting actions that are not illegal but deemed to be an “abuse.” Reported violations can be based on mere “suspicions” rather than actual evidence. Some of these “violations” include actions deemed to be “hate speech,” “anti-Islamist,” “anti-feminist,” “racist,” and potentially even skepticism about human-caused climate change.

Both employees of a company or government office as well as non-employees can also submit reported violations anonymously by phone or online.

In essence, this means that any German can now report any company for taking an action that he or she deems to be out of step with the left’s environmental agenda or any other liberal policy, and a taxpayer-funded office in the German government will now investigate it as a criminal violation.

Dr. Hubertus Knabe, a German historian and former scientific director of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, which commemorates the horrors of Soviet occupation, has warned that the German law creates “a new, huge investigative apparatus” whose authority is founded neither in existing German statutes nor the German Constitution.

For Dr. Knabe and others who lived under the East German regime, the reporting structure of the new German law establishes a system of “informers” that is dangerously similar to the one implemented by the STASI during the Soviet era.

Much like the STASI interrogation methods, the German whistleblower law seemingly presumes the accused guilty until proven innocent. As some critics have pointed out, disgruntled employees can now retaliate against their employers with false reports and leave companies mired in costly and time-consuming legal battles with no repercussions for those who abuse the system.

Allegations of wrongdoing are also investigated outside the normal judicial process, erasing the transparency that is the bedrock of the Western legal system.

Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats and Alternative for Germany parties warned early on that the law was merely cover for the ruling socialist coalition in Berlin to weaponize the government against their political opponents – much as their communist forefathers did in East Germany.

Such fears seem to be confirmed by one instance where Nancy Faeser, Germany’s Federal Interior Minister, used the new law to accuse Arne Schönbohm, the President of the Federal office for Information Security, of having had contact with Russian intelligence operatives.

It was later revealed that Faeser’s allegations were made based only on the fact that Schönbohm had been spotted at a club in Berlin where Russian secret service agents were known to frequent. The investigation was dropped after six months in which Schönbohm was treated as an enemy of the state.

Dr. Knabe, who subsequently sued Faeser over the incident, has offered evidence that the German government “arbitrarily prolonged” the investigation “contrary to the law.”

Again, the parallels with STASI are clear. As Dr. Knabe explains, STASI agents “often investigated and arbitrarily targeted individuals.”

A former high-ranking KBG officer who defected to the West in the 1990s told this author that informants in a totalitarian system are a method for the regime to disintegrate social bonds and undermine trust between families and neighbors. “No good can be achieved through an informant system,” he warned.

That indeed seems to be what is happening in Germany and throughout the West. In 2021, only 45 percent of German citizens believed expressing their political opinion in public was safe. Last year, eight in ten Germans said freedom of expression was restricted in their country, while half said they were afraid to express their opinion on anything in public. The new whistleblower law is in many ways only the official codification of a societal cancer that has been festering for decades.

To be sure, there is a legitimate need for methods to report abuses of power and violations of the law, and those who have the courage to step forward and report legitimate wrongdoing should be protected from unfair reprisal. But under the new regime envisioned by modern Western liberals, simply disagreeing with the progressive worldview is a crime, and “whistleblower protections” is merely a rebranding of the authoritarian informant system that terrorized Eastern Europe during the Soviet era.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.

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