Top German court partially blocks police use of phone data

20th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

The court ruled that phone companies should continue to store the data in their computers.

Karlsruhe, Germany -- Germany's constitutional court issued a temporary injunction Wednesday against police access to telephone records in the investigation of minor crimes.

The court, in the justice capital of Karlruhe, ruled that phone companies should continue to store the data in their computers.

But during the next six months, while judges scrutinize the legislation and consider their final ruling, police will only be able to obtain data about phone calls and e-mails when it is vital to inquiries into grave crimes.

Privacy activists, who regard data retention by telephone companies as a threat to individual liberty, had challenged legislation passed under March 2006 European Union guidelines which requires numbers dialed in Germany to be noted for six months.

The legislation also obliges telecom companies to record the "to" and "from" addresses of e-mails, though not the mails' content, for the same period. Police say they need to have such data on call when tracking down secret communications within terrorist cells.

German liberals have led a campaign throughout the European Union against data retention, which many have equated with the practices of the Gestapo and Stasi secret police in the Nazi and communist eras.

The European Court in Luxembourg is to rule this year on a separate challenge to the EU directive.

Unlike many countries, Germany has not let police use most phone data for decades. Phone customers were in the past able to demand that telecoms companies delete the data when a call was finished.

In January, the campaigners filed a petition to the court signed by 30,000 people demanding a review of the legislation, which they claimed had instituted "surveillance without suspicion" and allowed police to profile people's private lives.

Judges said the legislation was potentially intimidating. The injunction only slightly limits the law, since police require a warrant anyway to search the records and can only obtain this to investigate terrorism, murder, tax evasion and the like.

Patrick Breyer of the Data Retention Working Group, which brought the case, called on Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries to resign.

DPA with Expatica

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