Merkel government widens anti-terrorism powers for police
The German government has granted federal police greater powers with which to counter terrorism, but civil liberties groups have qualms about the methods to be usedBerlin -- The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on Wednesday to enhance the powers of federal police to spy on terrorists, but the planned legislation faces criticism from German civil liberties groups.
Instead of tapping phones and tailing suspects, federal police will be able to use more up-to-date methods including computer viruses and video surveillance if judges approve the change.
In a major advance, federal police will no longer have to do the bidding of the 16 state police forces in preventive anti-terrorism inquiries, but will be able to mount nationwide investigations of their own before terrorists strike.
Merkel supporters gave up plans to allow police to physically tamper with suspects' computers. Instead, the police will have to hoodwink suspects by sending them anonymous e-mails containing trojan programs and hope the suspects infect their own computers.
Critics said the new power was of limited value, since intelligent terrorists could buy anti-virus software to protect their privacy.
The legislation has been under debate for years, with civil liberties activists saying it will lead to a Big Brother state where the privacy of Germans' homes is no longer sacrosanct.
Opposition parties are expected to put up a fresh fight in parliament and some Social Democrats, who nominally support Merkel, said they would demand changes in the bill.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the redefinition of federal police powers was a "key building block in our security architecture" and had been drafted in accord with the constitution.
Over fierce resistance, Schaeuble this year pushed through legislation making it a duty for phone companies to retain billing records for six months so that judges can order scrutiny of a suspect's calls and internet use in serious crime inquiries.