Constitutional Court Considers Criminal Observation System | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 10.11.2004
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Constitutional Court Considers Criminal Observation System

Wednesday sees Germany's Constitutional Court open a case which may set a precedent in use of Global Positioning Systems against suspected criminals.


Does tailing criminal suspects using GPS infringe private rights?

The constitutional complaint was brought by a former member of the Anti-Imperialist Cell (AIZ), a movement spawned in 1992 in the wake of the disbanded radical left-wing Red Army Fraction, who has since converted to Islam.

Encroachment of personal rights?

The man, who appeared in court Wednesday, was given a 13-year jail sentence in 1999 for four counts of attempted murder after arranging bomb attacks against politicians and private persons.

The conviction based primarily on evidence secured by Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

After observing the suspect for four months, investigators were able to establish a reliable movement profile from a distance of up to 50 meters -- including frequently-taken routes and destinations.

The accused, however, maintained that use of GPS, a system also used in car navigation programs, had no legal basis and any evidence it provided should therefore not have been presented in his trial. He also argued that investigators breached his human dignity and their assembling of his movement profile represented a serious encroachment of his personal rights.

New precedent

New laws incorporated into Germany's code of criminal procedure to tackle organized crime between 1992 and 2000 contain no clause specifically applicable to this particular case.

Police hid a small GPS instrument in the suspect's car, tapped his and his employer's telephone and deployed video cameras as observation teams.

Nonetheless, State Secretary for Justice Hansjörg Geiger said Wednesday that any observation of suspected criminals aided by GPS did not contravene existing law.

Karlsruhe's Constitutional Court will be reaching a decision on the GPS case in the next few months.

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