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Police Surveillance

DW staff (kh)
May 22, 2007

According to a new report published by a group of nine German human rights organizations to mark Constitutional Day, German police and officials are increasingly using unconstitutional methods in their investigations.

Surveillance is getting more extensive in GermanyImage: AP

At the presentation of the "2007 Constitutional Report" in Karlsruhe, former constitutional court judge Jürgen Kühling said the report's conclusions were "all in all disturbing" and that individual rights were being "sacrificed to satisfy disproportionate security requirements."

The annual report, which is made up of 42 articles, is primarily concerned with the issues of excessive state surveillance, illegal searches and the degrading treament of immigrants. It was presented for the occasion of Germany's Constitutional Day, celebrated on May 23.

Kühling said the country's highest court had repeatedly declared numerous police searches and phone taps unconstitutional but such cases continued to occur.

Bundesverfassungsgericht - Großbild
The Constitutional Court is Germany's highest courtImage: PA/dpa

Without making reference to the recent raids on activists in the lead up to the G8 summit in June in the northern German town of Heiligendamm, Kühling called for increased compensation for victims of illegal police activities as a way of curbing their unconstitutional operations.

Caught in demonstration

The former judge gave the example of a lawyer who was returning home from shopping when she was caught up in a mass arrest by police at a demonstration. Despite showing police her shopping and receipt, the woman was handcuffed and locked in a police van for more than five hours before being released in a nearby suburb.

Deutschland G8 Sicherheit Terror Razzia in Hamburg Verhaftung
The reports criticizes police for picking up innocent bystanders in raidsImage: AP

Her detention was later declared illegal by a court. However, criminal proceedings against the police were suspended. After a long fight, the woman eventually received compensation of 500 euros ($675).

Kühling pointed out that stars received considerably more in damages for the publication of unauthorized photos.

The report's authors criticized several German states for amending their laws to give police special powers to conduct phone tapping and searches. The authors said this allowed officials to circumvent the strict constitutional requirements for such activities.

"War on terror"

The report also criticized the "security hysteria" resulting from the "war against terror." Speaking at the Karlsruhe press conference, political scientist Peter Grottian said he was spied on by officers simply because of his participation in the Berlin Social Forum, an organization made up largely of left-wing groups.

Referring to the recent G8 raids, Grottian said the state made the assumption of "guilt by association" and that was then used to justify "disproportional state surveillance."

The so-called "alternative constitutional report" was presented week after Interior Minister Wolgang Schäuble released the government's constitutional report warning that Germany faced an increasing threat from terrorists.

G8 threat

Vorbereitung in Stralsund vor dem Besuch von Georg W. Bush
Dogs are being trained to sniff out protestersImage: picture-alliance / dpa

In a twist to the surveillance tale, the federal prosecutors' office has confirmed a report that authorities are using scent tracking to keep tabs on G-8 protesters. The daily Hamburger Morgenpost reported on Tuesday that police had taken scent samples from activists so that police dogs can pick out the perpetrators if there is violence.

The use of scent samples was widely practiced by the East German secret police, the Stasi, who used the technique to track dissidents.

Petra Pau, a lawmaker with the opposition Left Party, a group that includes ex-communists, blasted the practice as "another step away from a democratic state of law toward a preventive security state."