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Berlin approves beefing up surveillance

December 21, 2016

The German government has endorsed a package of security bills, including broadening video surveillance and allowing federal police to wear bodycams. The draft was in the works months before the deadly Berlin attacks.

Bundespolizei Bodycam
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Introduction of bodycams - Steffen Seibert, German government spokesman

The ministers approved the bill on Wednesday, backing the initiative by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. However, the bill still needs to be confirmed by the federal parliament before going into effect.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said surveillance would be especially beefed up in areas including shopping centers, sports centers, car parks, buses and railways. The move could serve as a deterrent for potential attackers, he added.

Germany's main political parties have agreed to reform surveillance services months ago, responding to public pressure after sexual assaults in Cologne, a spree killing in Munich, as well as terror attacks aboard a train in Würzburg and a suicide attack on a fair in Ansbach.

However, the attack on the Berlin Christmas market has reignited the debate on security in the country. On Wednesday, Berlin state authorities said the suspect for Berlin attacks was monitored for several months during 2016. The surveillance was called off in September.

Bodycams to protect police

The issue of surveillance is particularly sensitive in Germany, with the trauma of the Gestapo and the Stasi still vivid in the country's memory. Both the Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck were born and raised in East Germany.

Germany's data protection law historically values privacy rights, and the latest amendment also places a high worth on the protection of life and health, as well as the safeguarding of personal freedom.

The new law also permits police officers to wear body cams, a measure intended to increase security for offices after a rise in violent attacks against them in recent months. Investigators will also be granted more powers to record telephone conversations during pertinent cases.

President meets attack victims

While the government still looking for ways to deal with the aftermath of the Monday attack, German President Joachim Gauck visited Berlin's Charite hospital to meet with injured victims.

Gauck told reporters he spoke with three patients due to operated on Wednesday and commended their "composure."

"The people need to sense that they are not alone," he said, while also thanking the doctors and medical staff.

The Charite admitted 13 patients after the attack, two of whom died. Medical director Ulrich Frei said that four of the patients being treated are suffering from "severe trauma of the lower extremities and the pelvis."