A call to allow using autobahn toll data to track criminal suspects has triggered a fresh row among Germany's justice ministers. Originally, the project's data was intended only to calculate car users' highway fees.
Rhineland-Palatinate Justice Minister Herbert Mertin on Wednesday rebuffed the idea floated by his colleague from Baden-Württemberg, Guido Wolf, that autobahn toll data also be used to track suspects after serious crimes.
The system, known in German as the PKW-Maut (car toll) recognizes when speeding vehicles pass beneath special scanners put up over the road.
"When the toll [project] was introduced it was sworn that the data would only be used for billing purposes," said Mertin of Germany's liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
"Now someone wants to break this promise given to citizens back then," Mertin said as ministers from Germany's 16 states converged on the Palatinate's wine-growing hub of Deidesheim.
Discussion on the idea at their two-day meeting would be "very controversial," he added.
Allowable, says Wolf
Wolf, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel and who last year led the Christian Democrats (CDU) to a heavy defeat in BW's 2016 state elections, told the "Rheinische Post" newspaper that his advisers believed a legislative amendment was constitutionally allowable.
"In the case of exactly prescribed capital offenses, it seems definitely worth considering prosecuting authorities being allowed closely confined access [to road toll data]," said Wolf. "I could imagine, access being allowed only after a judicial decision in the case of the most serious of crimes."
Data collection constrained
Mertin countered that Germany's Constitutional Court based in Karlsruhe had consistently been narrow in its judgments on German data protection laws.
"When data is collected for a specific purpose it should principally only be used for that purpose," Mertin added.
The autobahn automobile toll collection project, an initiative of German federal Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), is scheduled to come into operation in 2019.
After years of rancor and legislative redesign, the European Commission lifted objections earlier this year, but the project's implementation still hinges on a complaint before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) brought by Austria.
Last week, Dobrindt's Berlin-based ministry issued a call for tenders for the system. The winning operator will get contracts for 12 years, with a three-year extension option.
The vehicle toll will apply to all cars on German highways, but vehicle owners in Germany will be compensated with a reduced vehicle tax. Germany already runs a toll collection system for trucks.
Annually, the car toll - after deduction of all costs - should generate 500 million euros ($557 million) for investments in road infrastructure.
Project long decried
German opposition parties have long decried the car toll project as over-complicated and hardly economic.
Greens parliamentary leader Anton Hofreiter told the German news agency DPA on Wednesday that after September's federal election the next government should cancel the project before the Luxembourg court has a chance to issue a ruling.
Left party transport spokesman Herbert Behrens predicted the court would topple the project and warned that taxpayers would end up owing money to those firms that had submitted tenders.
ipj/sms (dpa, AFP)