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Opinion: Increase security, but keep a steady hand

Terror isn't spread by Kalashnikovs and bombs alone; there is a psychological dimension to it as well. Terrorism spreads fear - collective fear. DW's Volker Wagener says that such fears can be combatted.

The discussion was predictable: Should we go to the Christmas market this year? Families are talking themselves into a frenzy around the kitchen table. Currently, vehement 'NOs' from mothers are trending high. "We don't have to go this year, it's just too dangerous. And the kids are definitely not going!" Men - whether fathers or not - tend to remain rational and relaxed, countering with the rule of thumb that "one is never safer than right after an attack."

Such discussions illustrate one thing: The abstraction of terror has become palpable. The fear it generates gnaws away at our hearts and our minds. Can I still go to a rock concert, or a soccer game? How safe are our schools and kindergartens? Is it still safe to take the train? Will Carnival go on as planned?

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App

DW's Volker Wagener

Such fears are justified. Nonetheless, before it grows into full-fledged paranoia, we need to stop, and take a deep breath: Yes, the enemy is invisible, he does not march in the streets for all to see. He is only perceptible when it's too late, after the injured have been separated from the dead. But what conclusions can we draw from this fact?

Beef up security

An expansion of security is inevitable. For years we found it acceptable to consistently downsize police forces to save money; spending cuts had top priority. Many jobs were cut, but an explosion in overtime payments have been doled out instead. Police officers are known to be an especially frustrated professional group. Beyond that, police technology, which is anything but modern, has maintained the charm of yesteryear. Naturally, uniformed police officers cannot hinder every suicide bomber. Nevertheless, more presence in public spaces brings more security. An added pair of observant eyes simply sees more.

The same goes for Germany's and other countries' intelligence services. After seven decades of peace and 25 years since the demise of Communism, it is a fallacy to think that we can get along without them. Who, if not these institutions, should gather and evaluate information in order to uncover and hinder attacks? Several attacks on Germany have been foiled in the past, thanks to help provided by foreign intelligence services. Not exactly a testimony to our own competence. It should be our aspiration to know about Islamist activities in our own country.

Set priorities: step up Internet profiling

To know what is going on also means to control the Internet, but protection of privacy is a sacred cow in Germany. The Americans, British and French view the extent of this protection with skepticism and bewilderment.

In the age of terrorist threats, priorities must be adjusted. The protection of human life must be categorized as more important than the protection of personal data. There can be no security without limiting the protection of personal data. And not all freedoms in life can be guaranteed when we find ourselves on the edge of a state of emergency. Or should we be indignant when French security forces provide us with information on attacks that they have gleaned with methods that would be deemed illegal in Germany?

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