The federal government does not shed any light on allegations that the administration regularly deletes e-mails, entire e-mail boxes and other messages such as text messages from former office holders such as federal ministers. “The requested data is not available in statistical form,” writes the Federal Ministry of the Interior in response to a request from the AfD parliamentary group on relevant events since 2015. In order to compile the requested information “in its depth of detail”, “a departmental query of all ministries together with detailed research would be necessary the respective technical papers required”. Insofar as it is still technically possible to access the corresponding data carriers, such an effort would be unreasonable and therefore “not possible”.
The “Welt am Sonntag” reported in December that the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Health had made a clean sweep in the area of e-mail before a handover. The mailbox of ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) was also recently deleted. The Federal Ministry of Finance may have deleted e-mails from the then department head and current Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and his office manager. The corresponding communication could also have been relevant for investigations into the cum-ex scandal, in which Scholz is mainly involved from his time in Hamburg. At the time, a government spokesman confirmed that at least in the chancellery, when decision-makers left, “e-mail accounts would be deactivated and e-mail inboxes deleted after six months.”
Deletion “not documented”
The interior department is keeping a low profile here and is now declaring that the deletion of messages, broken down by office holder, authority, cause and date, is “not documented”. In general, it states: “In the federal government, information that is relevant to the processing of an administrative process is filed in a suitable form in accordance with the registration guidelines for the processing and administration of written material in the federal ministries.” This process takes place regardless of whether communication was made by telephone, e-mail, text message or in person. The administration does not keep records of the whereabouts of information that has not been filed. The release of stored online communication within the framework of freedom of information repeatedly leads to disputes.
In fact, the federal government is legally obliged to at least offer communication, including e-mails, from former officials to the federal archive for safekeeping. So far, this has not happened at all with e-mailboxes, and the archivists were not included even before a planned deletion. Bundesarchiv President Michael Hollmann warned against the “world” of a growing danger “that important information will be lost”. It would be in the spirit of transparency to regulate the handling of digital work tools such as e-mails or SMS more specifically and strictly. The executive explained vaguely: “All documents relevant to the files will be offered to the Federal Archives in due course”.
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