Top German court strikes down key parts of anti-terror law

20th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Germany's highest court on Wednesday struck down key planks of an anti-terror law, saying they violated privacy protections enshrined in the constitution.

The legislation passed in 2008 which covers surveillance of terror suspects by the federal police must be reworked by June 2018, the Federal Constitutional Court in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe ruled.

The law gave investigators sweeping powers to use secret cameras and bugging devices in private homes and to install government-developed surveillance software on personal computers in a bid to prevent attacks.

Controversially, it specifically allowed snooping in the bedroom and bathroom, and for people not targeted in an investigation to be observed if they are with a suspect.

The scarlet-robed judges said in their verdict in the high-profile case that while the thrust of the measures is covered by Germany's Basic Law, they found "several individual provisions allowing disproportionate encroachment on privacy".

The court said that before the federal police use data collected during surveillance operations, an "independent service" must review them to determine whether they contain "information of a highly private nature".

In addition, surveillance may only be carried out against a suspect outside his home if there is a "strong likelihood" he could commit a "terrorist act in the near future".

And the ruling bars data from being shared with other domestic or foreign intelligence services without a "specific threat of attack".

Germany has strict constitutional protections on state security powers to prevent the kind of egregious abuses committed by the Nazi and communist dictatorships.

The challenge was brought by former interior minister Gerhart Baum of the liberal Free Democratic Party and members of the opposition Greens, who argued that the level of intrusion into citizens' privacy was unconstitutional.

- Changes will be 'respected' -

In testimony to the tribunal last July, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere defended the law, saying the government had used the powers judiciously and claiming that they had helped prevent a dozen attacks on German soil.

De Maiziere pledged Wednesday to "respect and implement" the changes to the law required by the court.

However, he criticised the new hurdles imposed by the ruling as restricting law enforcement capabilities.

"You can see how real the terror threat has become in Europe and Germany with the horrible attacks of late, in particular in Brussels, Paris and Istanbul," he told reporters.

De Maiziere stressed that he did not share many of the court's concerns, adding that taking them into account now "won't make the fight against international terror any easier".

Civil liberties groups have long complained about what they say is a creeping "surveillance state" in Germany.

Germany has thus far escaped a large-scale Islamic extremist attack but the secret services say jihadists have the country in their sights.


© 2016 AFP

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