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Profiling Dealt a Second Blow

Judges in two German states have ruled one of the anti-terrorism measures swept in by Interior Minister Otto Schily after Sept. 11 as illegal.


Playing cat and mouse

A court in the German state of Hesse ruled on Thursday that one of the anti-terrorism measures instituted in Germany after the Sept. 11 attacks did not pass civil rights muster.

Computer-aided profiling, which targeted among others, Muslims across Germany for investigation, was only allowable if police believed a serious terrorist threat was at hand, the court ruled. The wording was almost identitcal to a similar decision handed down by Berlin’s highest court a few weeks before.

Thursday’s ruling was a victory for Muslim students and civil rights advocates across Hesse, above all for the Sudanese airport employee who brought the case. He was one of many who sued their states in the weeks after which Germany re-instituted nationwide computer profiling in the weeks of paranoia following the attacks.

Investigative relic targets Muslims

The profiling, an investigative relic used by officers to catch members of the leftists terrorist group, the Red Army Faction in the 1970s. Instead of white, German leftists, police officers were now charged with scanning, among others, members of the country’s 3 million-strong Islamic community for the types of "sleeper" terrorist cells that planned that World Trade Center attacks out of a Hamburg apartment.

The profiling created an uproar in the country’s 3 million-strong Muslim community, who said they were unfairly singled out just because they shared a religion in common with the Hamburg-based planners of the Sept.11 attacks. Though police refused to release the profiling criteria they used, German press reported high on the list were single, Muslim students from Asian countries studying some scientific or technical field at one of Germany’s universities.

Students strike back

Universities were forced to hand over their registration rules, unleashing a flurry of student-filed lawsuits across Germany. One of those, by two Sudanese students and an Algerian student at Humboldt University in Berlin, saw victory on Jan. 22.

The Berlin judge, using almost similar words, said profiling was only justified if there was an actual terrorist threat. Berlin’s interior senator Erhart Körting, of the ruling Social Democratic Party, criticized the ruling. He said the probability of a terrorist attack was much harder to measure as the court would like.

Officials in both Berlin and Hesse have announced they will appeal the decisions.

Profiling’s initial results

The decision comes a few weeks after the first results of profiling were made public in Hamburg.

Police in the harbor city, the first to institute profiling, announced Jan. 21 that 140 men, all current or former students, had been asked in for questioning after being run through the computer.

The men are all between the ages of 20 and 40, are Muslim and come from Asian countries. They were asked to show police documents, including their passports and bank account information.

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