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Police searches homes of „Zwiebelfreunde“ board members as well as „OpenLab“ in Augsburg

2018-07-04 08:12:30, 46halbe

On June 20th, board members of the „Zwiebelfreunde“ association in multiple German cities had their homes searched under the dubious pretence that they were „witnesses“ while their computers and storage media were confiscated. The Augsburger CCC offshoot „OpenLab“ also had to contend with a search of their premises.

For seven years, the Zwiebelfreunde association has been promoting and creating privacy enhancing technologies, while also educating the public in their use. At, the association operates Relays of the Tor anonymising network while helping operators technically and legally. In addition to this, the association helps other organisations raise funds. The board members of the association are not considered suspects but witnesses in the ongoing investigation.

The story behind the searches and seizures is somewhat convoluted: There was an anonymous website on the internet, calling for protests against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party convention in Augsburg. The unknown operators of this website used an e-mail address at Riseup, a well-known alternative provider. [1] The Zwiebelfreunde association has a bank account to facilitate donations to

Riseup is domiciled in the US, and essentially offers a non-commercial alternative to Gmail. Because data-protection practices are in decline world-wide, many NGOs and grassroots organisations use Riseup.

These facts have not yet reached the police in Bavaria. The state prosecutor’s office in Munich has apparently been operating on the mistaken assumption that everyone even tangentially connected to Riseup would be able to provide information on any e-mail account registered there, including that of the alleged illegal website. [2] The officers on the scene made clear that they themselves felt this assumption would not hold and said so to the witnesses. But they performed the searches and seizures anyway.

With such contrived reasoning, almost anyone could be searched if the anonymous website had been operated by people with a Gmail address. As a consequence of this clearly nonsensical attempt at logic, those involved in this as witnesses and their families have had to endure abjectly disproportional intrusions into their homes. Homes were searched without anyone even attempting to question the alleged witnesses.

A multitude of storage media, computers and other devices were confiscated, also affecting family members of the association’s board members - none of whom stands accused of a criminal act. Also affected are completely unrelated businesses and sensitive projects of Zwiebelfreunde, such as the Tails Linux distribution. Some of those involved have had their requests to return the hardware denied.

„This is a textbook example of how easy the fundamental rights of completely innocent citizens and their families can be violated as a result of artificially constructed evidence chains, no matter how ridiculous. To be drawn into this as a witness on the basis of such patently unsustainable reasoning is questionable to say the least. The recent introduction of draconian Bavarian laws governing police authority has clearly led to a culture where those responsible no longer feel bound by any sense of proportionality of their actions“, says Frank Rieger, speaker for the Chaos Computer Clubs (CCC).

Just to recap: The mere presence of an e-mail address at a large free provider on a website has caused law enforcement authorities to deduce that a German association that helps raise funds for this provider must be connected to this website somehow. Although Zwiebelfreunde clearly has nothing to do with the operation of this provider, they were suspected anyway. That these searches and seizures were ordered by the Bavarian police shows either forensic incompetence at a very advanced stage, malicious intent or both.

If you want to support Zwiebelfreunde – and still dare to send money to their account – please check here:

Search of the OpenLab in Augsburg

While searching the premises of the board members in Augsburg, Jena, Dresden, and Berlin, the police – on their own accord –decided to extend the search to premises also used by members of the CCC: the OpenLab in Augsburg. Here the officers were confronted with hackers in their natural habitat: substances to clean and etch circuit boards as well as hair bleach. After interpreting the contents of a whiteboard as a bomb making manual, the officers then went on to accuse random people present at the hackerspace of plotting a bombing attack. Three people were arrested on the spot and the hackerspace was subsequently searched without a court order and without any witnesses.

The police seized objects from OpenLab and used force to open locked cabinets holding member data and bank records. It has to be assumed that this information was copied and that the rights of members and supporters of both association were violated.

Just like with the initial suspicion with regard to the board members of Zwiebelfreunde, the subsequent suspicions with regard to explosives are incompetent, malicious or both. The suspicion of „preparation of a explosive attack“ is a grave and direct threat to the operation of a hackerspace - family-friendly OpenLab is open to visitors almost every day. If the mere possession of basic chemical knowledge is a cause for suspicion then pretty soon teenagers will have to hide their chemistry books from nosy cops.