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Germany

Berlin takes stock of 'threats to constitution'

The annual report by Germany's internal security agency lists industrial espionage and left-wing violence as the biggest threats to democracy in Germany.

A man in a flop hat faces away from the camera at the Brandenburg Gate

Companies are being asked to beef up protection measures to secure German innovations

In an annual report for Germany's internal security agency, an increase in left-wing violence and the need for increased vigilance to guard against industrial espionage were listed as the biggest threats to democracy in Germany.

The report was presented on Monday by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, along with Heinz Fromm, head of the agency.

In a statement, de Maiziere said that the threat of industrial espionage was of particular concern to the German government.

Thomas de Maiziere

De Maiziere presented the annual report on Monday

De Maiziere called on companies to work together with the government to ensure they were taking the proper steps to guard against competitors' prying eyes.

"The effectiveness of these measures depends in a large part on the willingness of the companies to constructively implement them," said de Maiziere. "Small and medium sized companies don't often have enough awareness of the danger."

Protecting German innovation

Indeed, awareness is a large part of the problem. Larger companies often have a full time staff devoted to securing their company's activities from prying eyes. But according to Heinz Shulte, editor of the Griephan Global Security magazine which covers security management issues, smaller companies often lack an effective security department and might not realize that someone from outside the company - or even outside the country - might take an interest in what they work on.

"If you sit somewhere and you build, for example, something like a subcomponent for a complex aerospace system," Schulte told Deutsche Welle, "you're not necessarily aware that that is the key component that a competitor in another country might be interested in."

The problem is not new, but as Schulte points out, the German government has now taken the extra step of naming specific countries such as Russia or China that are known to engage in industrial espionage.

"One feels that there is a slight increase in activities that have been detected," said Schulte, "and that has probably to do with the awareness of particularly medium-sized companies that they understand they are under threat and there's a lot of know-how these countries are interested in."

The report says that companies dealing with innovative technology are often targets for economic spies and it is thus is especially important for such companies to protect themselves - and the German innovations they are working on - from being compromised.

Left-wing violence rises

Another area of concern highlighted by de Maiziere was the rise of left-wing crime in 2009. Figures released in the report indicate a rise in the number of violent crimes, with around 1,100 cases of extreme left-wing violent crime last year compared to about 700 cases in 2008.

Riot police stand guard in the middle of confrontations with left-wing extremists

Left-wing demonstrations are increasingly turning violent, as this one did on May 1, 2010

De Maiziere pointed to examples of May Day protests last year in Berlin and a series of 'action weeks' in June of 2009 that turned violent as an example of the rise in left-wing extremism.

To counteract the growth of left-wing extremism, de Maiziere said the government intended to take steps to get the situation under control. This included identifying leading figures in left-wing organizations and uncovering their means of communication.

The report showed that the number of right-wing extremists had remained stable in 2009.

Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Michael Lawton

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