The Commercial Register has an online presence: www.handelsregister.de . Since the beginning of this month, all entries in the commercial register can be accessed here online free of charge and without registration. Among the data that can be retrieved here is also personal data.
What is the commercial register?
The Commercial Register is a public register of all registered merchants. It is maintained by the competent registry court. Depending on the type of business, certain entries must be made or documents must be filed. In the Commercial Register, under the name of a business (company), one can find the registered office, branches, areas of activity, designation of representatives, legal form and share capital. Each change is attached to the entry, so that all changes concerning the company can be tracked. In addition, depending on the company, documents such as the list of shareholders (GmbH), articles of association (KG), list of supervisory board members (AG) or company contract are added.
In principle, anyone can inspect the commercial register (Section 9 I HGB). This can be done online or on site at the competent court.
What is Handelsregister.de?
The Handelsregister.de platform enables online inspection of the commercial register. Previously, it was necessary to register for this. For some documents, a fee was even due for inspection. In order to meet the requirements of the law implementing the EU's digitalization directive, register information has been simplified since August 1: Registration is no longer required and there are no longer any costs for inspection. The aim of the EU directive is to simplify the formation of companies and the availability of register information.
The advantages of standardizing the portal are obvious: Every citizen can now view the commercial register with minimal effort. This promotes transparency. This objective has not only existed since the EU Directive, but is also the aim of the regulations on the commercial register in the German Commercial Code.
The implementation of making the commercial register accessible makes data protection experts shudder in places: In many documents, signatures are not blacked out, private addresses, dates of birth and even account numbers can be found in many places, and in the case of documents that have been notarized, even ID numbers are mentioned in some cases. Here, personal data and data with a high potential for misuse are publicly available.
Transparency vs privacy
It is obvious that not only the implementation is limping here, but also that there is a failure of the legislator. However, opinions on the redesign of the portal differ.
One side emphasizes that the portal has been around for a long time without any data protection debates. The only new feature is the waiver of fees and registration. The portal provides transparency, as stipulated in the German Commercial Code.
The other side sees the concern of those affected about the misuse of their data. Restrictions on free publication or at least free access are called for. In addition, it would have been better to publish the documents in machine-readable form with appropriate access restrictions instead of bluntly digitizing everything available.
The responsible data protection authority continues to defend the portal, but recognizes the heightened concern of those affected. It therefore suggests restricting the free publication of all register data on the Internet within the framework of European requirements in order to protect the individuals concerned. Further developments remain to be seen.
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