The German interior minister, Horst Seehofer, sees a demand for improvement in the storage of data relating to foreigners in Germany. He has proposed recording all data in the Central Register of Foreign Nationals, which all states would be able to access.
Asylum decisions, scanned IDs and other documents belonging to foreigners who live in Germany are to be saved at one central place in the future.
Germany's federal cabinet on Wednesday (February 24) enacted a draft law from Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's ministry. The law would grant the federal government, the 16 federal states and municipalities access to all relevant documents via the Central Register of Foreign Nationals ("Ausländerzentralregister", or AZR).
The AZR is a database that already contains information about people from abroad who have lived or are living in Germany. It is administered by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). While some information is saved there already, such as fingerprints given for an asylum application, most other data is currently stored by one of more than 600 local foreigners' offices in Germany ("Ausländerbehörden").
Storing all their data in a central location would eliminate the need for foreigners to provide the same information to different authorities again and again, lawmakers argue.
The AZR would also reduce the time and effort when moving to a different municipality, and having to present at the local foreigners' office.
Doubts about efficacy
Critics, on the other hand, question whether the reform would indeed have the desired effect. They have pointed out that a centralized system could lead to misuse of data. They also say that the correction of faulty datasets -- for instance due to the different spelling of names or missing remarks about departures -- hasn't been completed to this day.
"It's superfluous and dangerous to turn the Central Register of Foreign Nationals into a mega data dump of the foreigners' offices," Ulla Jelpke, Left Party (Die Linke) parliamentarian, said.
Jelpke argues that digitalization has opened up the opportunity to save a lot less data in a central location.
But according to minister Seehofer, the reform "speeds up the [asylum] procedures and protects of misuse and identity deceit." The reform was a "long overdue step on the path toward a modern administration," the politician added.
One of the problems appears to be that data in the AZR is not kept up to date. In a report by the German federal statistics office from last September on the data quality of the AZR, the authors said the register "had a tendency to build up excess data."
According to the report, this was evident by "the last comprehensive data correction" of the register in 2004 and the census in 2011. Departures of foreigners in particular were found to be underestimated.
"Already now, the foreigners' offices don't manage to keep their data in the AZR up to date," said Jelpke. "How will things unfold when even more data is saved there?"
The federal interior ministry, on the other hand, hopes that the reform will lessen the workload of administration officials in the medium term. Their reasoning: data and documents wouldn't need to be collected several times.
Politician Mathias Middelberg, a member of Germany's conservative CDU/CSU fraction like Seehofer, called the planned reform "an additional important building block to increase the efficiency and quality of procedures concerning asylum and foreigners' rights."
Each foreign national who lives in Germany can submit a written request to obtain information in case they want to know which data is saved about them in the Central Register of Foreign Nationals. You can find more information about this here (available in German only).