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Sculpture of two people listening with their ears pressed to a wall
It will be easier for police gather information from telephones, computers and homesImage: AP

A Law Too Far?

DW Staff (ls)
December 19, 2008

The German parliament's upper house has approved a controversial bill that gives police powers new powers to fight terrorism, clearing the way for it to become law. Critics say it infringes on people's civil liberties.


The upper house, the Bundesrat, approved the bill by a vote of 35-34, a day after the lower house backed the new version. Mediation by a committee of both chambers of parliament was necessary to reach the decision.

The new law reforms the federal police and give authorities powers to break into personal computers during preventive inquiries into terrorism and other serious crime.

After initially being approved by the lower house or Bundestag it was rejected at the end of November by the Bundesrat, which represents 16 state governments.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble welcomed the bill, saying it gave the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) the powers to conduct preventive measures necessary "to combat international terrorism successfully."

The revised bill requires a judge to authorize police access to a suspect's personal computer and to oversee the search of data by law enforcement officers.

It also clarifies the jurisdiction for such searches between the federal government and state authorities.

Police have been studying whether they could either enter premises to plant monitoring devices in computers or send viruses to the computers via the internet so that investigators could covertly read the hard disks.

Betraying privacy

Police can tune in to private information more easily with the new bill
Lawyers and journalists fear that someone will always be listeningImage: cc-Lucas Ussi-nc-nd

Legislators, clergymen and defense lawyers are fully protected from such searches, but journalists, other lawyers and doctors are not.

Ulrich Schellenberg, a lawyer and board member at the German Bar Association, told Deutsche Welle that this differentiation is unfair.

"Just as clergy members deal with people's religious conflicts, lawyers are obligated deal with moral conflicts," he said. "We talk to people who have problems and they need to talk to someone they know they can trust."

Michael Konken, chairman of the German Journalists Association has called the bill a "farce."

"We are worried in the editorial department, because people no longer know what they should do with their information," he said.

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