Anti-terrorism powers extended for German police
Less privacy in Germany is now a fair price to pay in the name of public safety, officials say.
Berlin -- Germany's lower house of parliament passed a controversial law on Wednesday, granting sweeping powers to federal police in the fight against terrorism.
The legislation, which has to be approved by the upper house, allows investigators to conduct video surveillance of terrorist suspects and monitor their private computers.
"We are responding to new technical developments while at the same time adhering to our basic tenets of freedom," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told deputies.
German civil liberties groups have criticized the new law, saying it will lead to a Big Brother state where the privacy of German homes is no longer sacrosanct.
In the past, the 5,500 strong federal police force in cooperation with Germany's 16 regional police forces had limited surveillance activities.
Under the new legislature, federal police will no longer have to wait for accordance from the state police forces in taking preventive anti-terrorism measures. They will be able to mount nationwide investigations of their own before terrorists strike.
Original plans to tamper physically with suspects' computers were dropped in favour of remotely installing viruses to obtain information.
However, approval of a judge has to be obtained before such action can be taken to ensure that privacy rules are not unnecessarily violated.
Germany has escaped major terrorist attacks like the 204 Madrid train bombings which killed 191 and the attacks in London of 2005 where 52 commuters died.
So far, an attempt in 2006 to blow up two German trains with suitcase bombs was thwarted when the devices failed to go off because of a technical flaw.
One Lebanese man was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 12 years in prison by a court in Beirut. Another is currently standing trial in Germany.