A German appeals court on Wednesday ruled to impose major restrictions on the release and publication of information from the Stasi files of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Under Wednesday's ruling, Kohl's Stasi files will stay under lock and key.
A German court has said that East German secret service files about former Chancellor Helmut Kohl will mostly have to remain under lock and key.
Though the Federal Administrative Court upheld portions of an earlier ruling ordering that Kohl's files from the former East German secret police be made available to journalists, the conditions will make it impossible for vast amounts of the data to be obtained.
Officials at the agency responsible for safeguarding and managing access to the vast Stasi archive criticized the ruling. "This doesn't completely address our concerns," said Hans Altendorf, one of authority director Marianne Birthler's top deputies. "This ruling applies restrictions that will especially be felt by representatives of the media."
Illegal data a violation of privacy
After nearly two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, the judges in the case ruled that Stasi files that include information that was illegally obtained by agents should only be given to journalists in the future if those affected by the information agree to their release. The agency responsible for the files had decided that a law passed in 2002 meant that public figures could not keep their files out of the public eye, but the court on Wednesday put very tight limits on how it can be applied. The ruling greatly strengthens the right to privacy of German celebrities and politicians.
Kohl's lawyer, Stephan Holtoff-Pförtner, said he was relieved by the ruling, despite the fact that it did not provide a blanket ban on the release of his client's files. "We're satisfied with the ruling," Holtoff-Pförtner said. "We're going to read it calmly and discuss it with our client. I don't want to say yet whether we are going to take any action based on it."
Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, center, during his visit to the Buna plant of DOW Chemical central Germany in Schkopau, eastern Germany.
Kohl (photo) brought the case to court, as he put it, to protect his human dignity, and the court has generally found that his case was justified. Wednesday's appeal ruling marked a sharp departure from a September 2003 ruling at Berlin's administrative court, which ordered the release of Kohl's files.
Kohl could mount second appeal
Though the ruling brought a partial success for Kohl, it's possible the former chancellor will appeal his case to Germany's Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. In the past, Kohl's attorneys have said they would appeal their case to the country's highest court in the event of a ruling in which access to the former leader's Stasi files wasn't fully blocked.
Journalists had been hoping to access the telephone taps the Stasi carried out between 1982 and 1989. They were looking for information about the party funding scandal over which Kohl's political career stumbled in 2000.
But on Wednesday, the Leipzig court overturned major portions of the Berlin decision. Reading his verdict in the case on Wednesday, the leading judge in the case, Hans-Joachin Driehaus, said that Stasi information garnered through wiretaps in private or working rooms were fundamentally banned from public release. The judgement applies not only to recordings and transcripts, but also to all reports, analysis papers and position papers that have been drawn from these sources.
Journalists limited to old newspaper clippings?
A mountain of documents: Berlin's vast Stasi archive
In the future, only information that was obtain through generally accessible sources can be made available under the ruling -- mostly benign information, like newspaper clippings. Additionally, documents relating to meetings between Kohl and politicians or diplomats from the former Eastern Bloc in his work as chancellor could also be released. Files that are based on the analysis and opinions of the Stasi based on those meetings should also be available to reporters, the court said.
However, the court did agree that different standards could apply for purposes of academic research. There, files, including information gained illegally, may be used. But even in those cases, the court said, the information must not fall into unauthorized hands or be published.
Birthler (photo) said the ruling, which affects how the agency deals with all cases involving public figures, would seriously limit the work of journalists investigating the ex-chancellors legacy. She said it was "unjust" that journalists and researchers