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Calls for sweeping surveillance reforms

December 21, 2016

A state interior minister has warned that Germany needs to beef up its security laws following the Berlin terror attack. The cabinet has already passed a proposal to introduce more video surveillance in public areas.

Symbolbild Videoüberwachung
Image: imago/S. Schellhorn

Security and surveillance is once again becoming a hotly debated talking point in the wake of Monday's terror attack on a Christmas market in central Berlin.

Speaking to German newspaper "Passauer Neuen Presse," Saarland Interior Minister Klaus Bouillon on Wednesday said, "It is time to eliminate the barriers to monitoring suspects' telephone conversations."

He also proposed a revamped law for monitoring popular online encrypted messaging services, such as WhatsApp, and said he aims to table a proposal by next month. 

Bouillon, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said, "It cannot be the case that a company can make billions with WhatsApp, while at the same allowing criminals to organize, direct young people and obstruct our authorities by not providing the necessary encryption codes."

The so-called "Islamic State" (IS) on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the attack on the group's Amaq news agency, which saw 12 people killed and at least 48 injured.

Germany beefs up video surveillance

Germany's federal cabinet on Wednesday morning voted in favor of Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere's proposals to introduce more video surveillance of public areas and public transport networks.

The new amendment to Germany's data protection law, which historically values privacy rights, makes data protection commissioners give greater weight to the "protection of life, health and freedom" when considering the use of video surveillance.

The proposal had been in the pipeline since July, after a mass shooting in Munich killed 10 people, including the perpetrator, and a suicide bombing in Ansbach that injured 15. However, it was accelerated through the cabinet after authorities scrambled for video footage of Monday's suspected perpetrator.

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. 

De Maiziere will also meet on Wednesday with federal prosecutors and other state authorities to discuss the Berlin attack and subsequent measures.

Increasing the BND's powers?

According to Bouillon, greater information sharing among the police and main intelligence service, the BND, is needed to effectively introduce sweeping surveillance policies.

While Germany boasts some of the world's toughest privacy laws, the government has in recent months sought to recalibrate the country's balance between security and privacy. Following a series of attacks over the summer - two of which were also claimed by IS - the German lower house of parliament in October passed a comprehensive reform of the country's foreign intelligence service, the BND. Updates to the legislation strengthened government monitoring of intelligence activities while allowing the BND to carry out certain types of surveillance activities.

However, the Left Party's Frank Tempel claimed on Wednesday that increased surveillance was not necessarily the best approach to tackling terrorism. Speaking to a Berlin broadcaster, he said potential perpetrators are generally able to adjust to their environment and warned that extended video surveillance would be little more than a "placebo for a subjective feeling of security."

Because of Germany's dictatorial past, where surveillance was commonplace and often applied as a political weapon, there is close scrutiny of surveillance laws.

In order to implement de Maiziere's video surveillance laws, Germany's Data Protection Act is to be amended in such that places greater security value on security before a authorities make a decision concerning surveillance.

dm/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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