′Monster′ German employee database goes online | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.01.2010

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'Monster' German employee database goes online

Under controversial new legislation, German employers must now submit data on their workers to a central information storage hub, affecting as many as 40 million employees throughout the country.

A CD with a lock around it

Civil rights groups have slammed the new data storage system

Under new legislation that came into effect on January 1, German employers must now submit their employees' income data to a government-sponsored central mainframe. The database is believed to form part of Germany's largest ever data acquisition program.

Employers must now send information monthly to the so-called ELENA database regarding workers' contributions to Germany's social programs.

Beginning in 2012, Germany's social welfare authorities will be able to use this data to assess whether to pay out or refuse benefits to applicants.

Trade unions and civil rights groups have criticised the project, while the Pirate Party - which is concerned about the amount of information being collected - referred to it as an "excessive heightening and storage of personal data."

Peter Schaar, who heads Germany's Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commission, criticized that ELENA system, saying that went beyond the legal limits set out for data collection.

In addition to data on employees salaries, also to be stored in the central database will be information about whether an employee has participated in strike action, and data on worker absenteeism.

Peter Schaar, who heads Germany's Data Protection and Freedom of Information Commission, speaks at a press conference

Peter Schaar says ELENA is not legally permissible

"I've got a big problem with this. Until now, such information on salary declarations has not appeared, and their general storage in a central file is not legally nor constitutionally allowed," said Schaar before ELENA came into force.

Frank Bsirske, head of the powerful Ver.di trade union, said the ELENA system was ripe for misuse, while the junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, the liberal Free Democrats, referred to the new storage hub as a "data monster."

The government says ELENA was created to save paperwork for business owners, who from 2012 will no longer have to print out pay certificates for their employees.

Around 3.2 million German employees provide an estimated 60 million income and employment certificates for workers every year.

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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