German terrorism surveillance plans opposed

11th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

11 April 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Ever since 9/11, Europe's interior ministers have felt the need to strengthen the hand - and sharpen the eye - of the security services. Germany, where some of the key al-Qaeda operatives hatched their plans for the attack on the United States in 2001, is no exception. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wants legislation that will give the state considerably greater powers to monitor and control its citizens. As elsewhere in Europe, Schaeuble's plans, which are still at t

11 April 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Ever since 9/11, Europe's interior ministers have felt the need to strengthen the hand - and sharpen the eye - of the security services.

   Germany, where some of the key al-Qaeda operatives hatched their plans for the attack on the United States in 2001, is no exception.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wants legislation that will

give the state considerably greater powers to monitor and control its citizens.

As elsewhere in Europe, Schaeuble's plans, which are still at the discussion stage, have encountered opposition on human rights and civil liberties grounds.

   And as a Christian Democrat (CDU) in a broad coalition, he has also run into political opposition from his cabinet colleague, Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, a Social Democrat (SPD) who has told him to keep off her patch.

   In the most widely publicized change, Schaeuble wants the federal criminal police (BKA) to be able to scan computers secretly online, by means of a "BKA Trojan."

   Earlier this year, a German court cast doubt whether there was sound legal basis for this.

Schaeuble is now considering a change to the constitution to push through his plans, but Zypries has called the plan "highly dubious from a constitutional viewpoint."

   Schaeuble also wants the fingerprints of passport-holders to be retained on file at the issuing office, as well as being stored in a chip in the passport as is currently the case.

   Powers to monitor private conversations in the home are also to be increased. Truck movements should be monitored by retaining data captured when tolls are paid, and police should have greater search powers, the interior minister believes.

Some SPD politicians back Schaeuble on monitoring computers, accepting his argument that criminals are communicating with each other online and terrorists "finding instructions on how to make bombs on the internet."

But SPD data-protection expert Joerg Tauss has accused him of trying to establish "the total surveillance state."

The minister came under fire last year, when a law was passed setting up a "terrorism data-bank" giving police and intelligence services access to detailed and highly personal information on suspected terrorists.

Monitoring the populace has uncomfortable echoes for many in Germany, given the country's Nazi past and the "total surveillance" by the Stasi security police in post-war communist East Germany that remains fresh in many minds.

There has also been a reminder of the dangers of using unanalysed intelligence data in the recent case of Murat Kurnaz.

The 25-year-old German-born Turk was released in August last year after spending more than four years in the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay.

The US was prepared to release him as early as 2002, but the Germans were reluctant to allow him to return to Germany - a fact that sparked uproar and prompted a parliamentary inquiry that is still sitting.

"Everything that could be used against Kurnaz was put forward and exaggerated to justify his continued detention," the liberal Zeit newspaper commented.

"Evidence that was exchanged internationally was not subjected to quality-control by the judiciary ... It can be disastrous for the individual if intelligence service preventive concerns are allowed to trickle down to the police unfiltered," it added.

But recent events have put many Germans on edge.

The attempt by terrorists to bomb two regional trains near Cologne in July last year caused alarm. Lebanese citizens, whose motive was apparently anger at the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, are to stand trial in Germany and Lebanon for the failed attack.

There is concern that Germany's involvement in Afghanistan - six Tornado reconnaissance aircraft have just been sent there to help fight the Taliban - has increased the threat of terrorist attack.

A survey conducted as they were deployed showed that 74 per cent of Germans feared the mission could make Germany a terrorist target.

Schaeuble describes criticism of his plans as "naive" and is sure his plans have popular backing.

The most serious attacks on individual rights are an assault on the person and identity theft, the interior minister says.

Schaeuble sees his task as guaranteeing security. "The overwhelming majority of the people see this the same way," he said in a recent interview.

DPA

Subject: German news

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