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Germany

Germany to tackle neo-Nazis with database

German authorities want to fight right-wing extremism with a centralized database, a neo-Nazi register. The proposal is a response to the series of murders attributed to the Zwickau terror cell.

At its last meeting before the two-month summer break on Friday, the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, approved the "Act to Improve the Fight Against Right-Wing Extremism." The law calls for the establishment of a centralized neo-Nazi database, merging information on violent right-wing extremist acts from 36 different police and intelligence services across the country.

With this database, security and intelligence authorities in Germany would be able to intensify and, above all, accelerate the exchange of information on potentially violent neo-Nazis.

The database would keep track of "right-wing extremists with violent tendencies" as well as their contacts, the alleged masterminds who pull the strings behind the scenes.

In particular, the law speaks of "persons who, according to the available evidence, appear to be pursuing right-wing extremist tendencies and in connection with those tendencies promote violence…and the use of right-wing extremist violence as a means to pursue political agendas."

However, the government stressed Friday that collected data would not automatically end up in the database. Files on people who only advocate right-wing violence will not be saved. A right-wing opinion, or membership in the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), would not be enough to merit a mention in the central database.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution believes there are around 9,500 violence-prone right-wing extremists in Germany. The database would collect "basic data" and "extended basic data" on each of them.

Investigators would have access to the basic data, including name, date of birth and address. The extended data would be intended for a more precise estimate of a suspected person. This would include, for example, language skills, events attended in the past, weapon ownership, telephone lines, bank accounts and any group memberships or affiliations. To obtain this information, the relevant authority must agree to disclose the data.

A previous model

The Bundesrat in Berlin

The Bundesrat approved the law on Friday

Serving as a model for the neo-Nazi database is the anti-terrorism database, which has been in place since 2007. In that database, police and intelligence services collect evidence on alleged dangerous Islamists at home and abroad. To date, around 18,000 people have been logged. At the moment, that database is being analyzed to test its reliability and the quality of its information.

An extension to the anti-terror database, which would include information on right-wing extremists, was initially investigated but ultimately rejected. Unlike the fight against international terrorism, Germany's foreign intelligence service (BND) has no legal mandate to investigate domestic right-wing extremism. In addition, the current database technology is not nearly advanced enough.

In order not to violate the official separation between the police and intelligence services, data collection takes the form of an index, rather than a full-text database. But unlike the anti-terrorism database, investigators using the neo-Nazi database will be able to perform linked searches. That means, for example, that they could closely examine the right-wing music scene in one region, or look up right-wing extremists with weapons knowledge.

Response to the NSU murders

Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, approved the law on June 27 with the support of the governing CDU/CSU-FDP coalition as well as the opposition SPD. The Greens and the Left Party voted against it. The Left Party had first called for an evaluation of the existing anti-terrorism database, a motion that was supported by the Greens.

The plans for the neo-Nazi database were set in motion by the government in February, in response to the revelations in November 2011 that the so-called Zwickau terror cell, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), had been linked to 10 murders. Investigators were sharply criticized for overlooking the NSU links to right-wing extremism for years. Currently, four parliamentary inquiries are investigating this oversight.

According to estimates by Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, the neo-Nazi database will enable the systematic processing of information and will eliminate "subjective discretionary decisions." The database is expected to cost about 8.2 million euros ($10.1 million) to set up and thereafter 2.6 million a year to operate.

Author: Kay-Alexander Scholz / cmk
Editor: Gregg Benzow

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