In Berlin to present his 2004 report, Germany's data protection commissioner said that the country's anti-terrorism measures could undermine hard-won civil liberties.
Schaar cautions against relaxing data protection laws
Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar was courting controversy Tuesday when he said that the sweeping anti-terror laws introduced by the government in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States undermined basic protection from state snooping into private lives.
Schaar cited new bank laws about to be introduced by the German government as one example of legislation getting out of control.
"This is an example of how well-intended rules to dry up the financial resources of international terrorism are being expanded to snoop into private affairs," he said. "By allowing state authorities, including the revenue service, wider access to individual banking data, privacy laws are clearly being violated. I have grave concerns about these procedures and hope the constitutional court will take them into account when it reviews the legislation."
Exercising the veto right
Schaar also criticized plans by some European governments to increase the time span over which telecommunication companies are obliged to store data on telephone calls and Internet usage. Such records are currently kept for three months, but five EU countries, including Germany, want to see this extended to one year. Schaar questions whether such a move would really help investigators in terrorist cases, fearing Internet providers could end up being misused by governments
"I see this extremely critically," he stressed. "I'm glad the German parliament is also voicing criticism. I hope that the government will use its veto power in the EU against these plans in Brussels."
German Interior Minister Otto Schily, however, is unlikely to do that. After a meeting with his counterparts from Britain, France, Italy and Spain last month, he said that these kinds of data can be crucial to prosecuting terrorist crimes. Schily also seems determined to press ahead with the introduction of biometric ID cards and passports -- which has annoyed Schaar.
"We cannot accept the introduction of half-baked technology and unsafe procedures," insisted Schaar. "Simply because the Unites States threatens us with tougher immigration regulations."
Schaar sees huge safety gaps emerging after the hasty introduction of the new IDs planned in German for this autumn. He says errors in design could easily allow unauthorized access to the data stored on them and has called for a moratorium on the introduction of the new technology until it has been found to be safe. He says the project could be halted until summer 2006.