Friday, July 07, 2006

German Parliament Seeks to Tighten Anti-Terror Laws

The German Parliament agreed this week not only to extend the anti-terror laws passed in early 2001, but to make them more stringent. Advocates of civil liberties are outraged.

In the wake of September 11, German law makers passed a series of anti-terror laws that are due to expire at the end of the year. This week, Germany's ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats agreed on proposals that would not only extend the controversial laws but make them even tougher.

"So far, scans of information databases have only been allowed in connection with terror suspects," explained Stefan Kalle, spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior. "It is now planned to extend this to include rightwing extremists and militant Islamists such as hate preachers operating in Germany."

Broader investigating power for police

The existing laws, which went into effect in early 2002, allow police and secret services to use telephone communications, emails, faxes, bank accounts and travel data as sources of information. Under the proposed revisions, access to the same would be expanded. In addition, Germany's foreign intelligence service, BND would have wider access to domestic police databases.

Until now, the anti-terror laws have been implemented in terror suspect cases. If approved, the new laws would be broadened to include possible consequences for individuals who may belong to extremist organizations but are not suspected of terror crimes.

The proposal, intended to help combat Islamic fundamentalists as well as rightwing extremists, is scheduled to be put up for approval after the parliament's summer recess.

A "cookie monster"

The proposals however have run into fierce opposition in some quarters.

The government is acting like a "Cookie Monster," said Wolfgang Wieland, speaker for domestic affairs of the left-leaning Green party. "They always want more, more, more and are never satisfied," Wieland told German news agency dpa.

Wieland is not alone in his criticism. Hans Christian Ströbele, a senior Green Party member, was a bitter opponent of the first set of anti-terror laws "because they amount to a gross violation of our democratic rights, first and foremost our right to privacy. The new measures cap it all because they even expand these violations to even more sectors of the population."

Max Stadler from the free-market liberal Free Democrats argued that the laws are yet another step toward an Orwellian surveillance system: "Experience shows that once the door has been opened, the state encroaches further and further on our civil rights," he said. "My worst fears are coming true, especially when you see that police duties are to be taken over by the secret services, which no one really controls in this country."

History knows both sides

Germany has experience with both sides of the issue in its recent collective memory.

On the one hand, the country experienced consequences of catastrophic proportions when Nazi rightwing extremists gained a foothold in the 1930s. And in the 1970s and 80s, terrorist groups like the "Rote Armee Fraktion" (RAF) were active. But on the other hand, thousands of Germans also experienced excessive state surveillance by the Stasi or secret police in East Germany.

When the proposed revisions to the anti-terrorism laws go up for approval after the summer recess, German lawmakers will also have to align their decision with a May ruling from the country's highest court that police profiling to find terrorists is unconstitutional.

Deutsche Welle 07/2006


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