The departure of Stefan Brink: Consistency to the end

Stefan Brink leaves: After almost six years in office, the National Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (LfDI) of Baden-Württemberg is not available for a second term. At the end of the year, the state’s chief supervisor will be vacant, and a group of federal and state data protection officers will lose one of their most distinguished bosses.

Nothing specific was known about the reasons for Brink’s departure, which came as a surprise to many in the data protection scene. Apparently, the lawyer informed employees about his office about the step on Wednesday afternoon, and Südwest-Presse initially informed about this internal event. As a result, Brink justified his decision by a dispute between himself and the state government over the further development of his home.

Assertive civil rights activist

Prior to joining Baden-Württemberg, Stefan Brink worked, inter alia, as a research assistant at the Federal Constitutional Court and in a managerial position at the State Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information in Rhineland-Palatinate. The lawyer is a member of both the FDP and the Civil Rights Organization Society for Freedom Rights (GFF) and was proposed by the Greens in the state parliament. He took up his position in the Southwest on January 1, 2017.

The DPO caused a stir with his investigations into the VfB-Stuttgart football club, where a “data scandal” involving information about members broke out during the power struggle for the presidency. Brink threatened a heavy fine but ended up paying € 300,000 thanks to VfB’s willingness to collaborate and learn. More severe was the penalty for the health insurance company AOK, which, due to significant deficiencies in data protection, used unauthorized data from competitions for sale. The penalty of 1.2 million euros is one of the highest GDPR penalties imposed so far in Germany (which were not later collected by the courts).

Brink also showed his assertiveness in the dispute with the mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer (The Greens). After a public dispute over the city’s list of the so-called “Conspicuous refugees,” LfDI eventually banned data collection by warrant.

Tireless messenger

From the very beginning, Brink saw his office not only as an administrative activity, but also as a political and communication task. So his authority expanded to include an education center for citizens, and he established a cultural bureau. As the first data protection authority in Germany, LfDI Baden-Württemberg publishes extensive working aids for civil society and associations on the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation [PDF] should help.

Above all, Brink has repeatedly taken a critical stance on his state government’s legislative proposals and has been involved in current political debates, be it with a guest article on netzpolitik.org on tracking corona contacts or commenting on a traffic light coalition coalition deal in the federal government. Brink never seemed afraid of contradictions.

For a long time, the tireless messenger – he often lectures and discusses on the podium, has his own podcast, and sometimes publishes songs on data protection with his team – relied heavily on the Twitter medium. But in the meantime, he turned his back on the social network. Not because it is here because of the criticism of the release of the Ibiza Strache music video in May 2019. a real storm in cash. But because, after in-depth legal analysis, he came to the conclusion that the data breaches of the US company (as well as other social media platforms) are so great that government agencies cannot be represented here.

Troubles of the Minister of the Interior

Since then, the lawyer, born in 1966, spoke mainly on the data protection-friendly platform Mastodon. This has caused great regret in the data protection community, which is very active on Twitter, but has also earned Brink a reputation for being more consistent than many of his federal and state government counterparts on data protection.

In fact, LfDI has now also persuaded the Baden-Württemberg government to move to Mastodon. In addition, Brink has a very tense relationship with the Green-Black government of Winfried Kretschmann. While the prime minister likes to sit on the talk show and generally identifies data protection as a problem for digitization, Brink always emphasizes that both go hand in hand: well-done data protection is not an obstacle to digitization, but a condition for its success in line with art. fundamental rights.

In any case, Brink did not stop with his state government in his supervisory practice. Only recently did he initiate proceedings against the Baden-Württemberg Interior Minister and CDU Deputy Prime Minister Thomas Strobl. He broke through a legal letter to the press from a police officer against whom state officials are suing for sexual harassment at work.

Strobl justified this with “maximum transparency” for which Brink also argues otherwise. After all, he is not only the state commissioner for data protection, but also the freedom of information. In this role, he often took a tough court with the state government, firmly demanding a proper transparency law for Baden-Württemberg.

The government has a duty

However, the bad relations with the state authorities are not the reason why he is not aiming for a second term, Brink stressed to the SWR: “Cooperation was good in many areas, there were no major clashes.” After all, it’s normal for someone holding his position to have regular disputes with the state government.

The fact that he “was unable to agree future drafts” with the government, as reported by Badische Zeitung, is seen in data protection circles as an indication that Grün-Schwarz was not prepared to make available the financial and human resources of Brink, which he deemed necessary for the further development of power. It’s logical that Brink learns from this. The state government is now required to show when filling the office that it was not about getting rid of an inconvenient supervisor.

But Brink doesn’t want to retire anyway. He told SWR that he wanted to accompany the topic of digitization in the future “from private work” and from Berlin.

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