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Is Germany's trans self-ID bill a threat to data privacy?

German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Lisa Paus and German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann give a press statement on the government's draft law on self-determination in relation to gender registration in Berlin, Germany August 23, 2023. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Lisa Paus and German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann give a press statement on the government's draft law on self-determination in relation to gender registration in Berlin, Germany August 23, 2023. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

What’s the context?

Draft law to make it easier to change legal gender includes a clause requiring personal data to be sent to state security agencies

  • Self-ID bill would make it easier to change legal gender
  • Trans rights groups warn of personal data privacy risks
  • Authorities say data will be deleted after one-off check

BERLIN - A self-determination bill that would make it easier for transgender Germans to change legal gender is moving closer to a parliamentary vote after years of delays, but trans rights advocates fear the legislation poses data privacy risks.

The long-awaited self-ID bill, which seeks to replace the 43-year-old Transsexuals Act and follows similar laws in other countries, is on track for a vote in the coming weeks in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, where the governing coalition holds a majority. 

Besides the questions over the bill's data provisions, the draft law has been criticised by gender-critical thinkers who say self-ID potentially endangers women in single-sex spaces.

Trans rights campaigners, while broadly welcoming the self-ID bill, have also accused the government of including discriminatory limitations, such as exceptions for legal gender change during wartime and for asylum seekers.

Here's what you need to know.

What does the bill say about personal data?

Under the terms of the self-ID bill, when someone changes legal gender, their personal details will be transferred automatically to security and law enforcement bodies including the federal police and two of the country's three intelligence agencies to check for any past record.

The data that will be shared with the state agencies will include their surname, their previous and new first name, their address and their previous and new legal gender. 

Once the security check is passed, the data would be immediately deleted from the agencies' systems, according to the text of the draft legislation. If a record is found, the personal details do not have to be deleted.

Police registers of LGBTQ+ people are a sensitive topic in Germany, a country where registers of suspected homosexuals gathered by security bodies have been documented since at least the 1860s, reaching a height in 1934, when the Nazi Gestapo centralised the so-called "pink lists".

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What do rights advocates and other critics say?

LGBTQ+ groups say the bill's data transfer clause treats trans people as criminal suspects simply because they have changed their legal gender. They say the requirement reflects anti-trans discrimination that depicts them as sexual abusers.

"The bill goes in the direction of criminalising trans people, accusing them of changing their gender to avoid prosecution," said Kalle Hümpfner, spokesperson for trans rights campaign group Bundesverband Trans*.

"And there is another concern about how this information is handled, that certain lists could be created," Hümpfner added, saying that possibility was of particular concern due to the far-right AfD party's rising poll ratings and media reports about the growth of far-right networks in several state units and in the military.

"Saying that sensitive data will be transferred (to those state bodies) is honestly a security risk," Hümpfner said.

The bill has also raised concerns from within independent state bodies such as the federal commissioners for anti-discrimination, Ferda Ataman, and for data protection, Ulrich Kelber. 

Ataman said last year that "data protection is weakened in a discriminatory manner" in the bill as, for example, the data of people changing their surname after marriage is not transmitted to security authorities.

A spokeswoman for Kelber said the government has failed to explain "how exactly the security authorities need the gender criterion to fulfill their tasks."

How has the government responded?

Government officials have stressed that under the terms of the legislation, people's details will be deleted from the agencies' systems once the one-off security check has been completed.

"If there is no data relating to the data subject in the registers or information systems of the receiving authority, the transmitted data must be deleted immediately," the bill reads.

Sven Lehmann, the government's LGBTQ+ rights commissioner, has said the data transfer takes place "exclusively for the purpose of enabling clear traceability in the authorities' information systems and registers".

Lehmann said in a statement that mechanisms will be in place to ensure the "immediate deletion" of the personal data after the check.

(Reporting by Enrique Anarte in Berlin @enriqueanarte; Editing by Helen Popper.)

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