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German top court: Surveillance law 'partly' unconstitutional

February 1, 2023

Parts of a law expanding authorities' ability to conduct surveillance operations were ruled unconstitutional by Germany's highest court. The case is seen as a bellwether for the fate of similar laws in other states.

Police officers in Mecklenburg-Lower Pomerania
The law also expanded the powers of undercover police officersImage: Jens Büttner/dpa/picture alliance

Germany's Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) ruled on Wednesday that increased police powers in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Lower Pomeria were partially unconstitutional.

The court gave the state government until the end of the year to reform the laws, taking issue with how they were framed.

What do the new laws entail?

At the heart of the case are a set of 2020 laws that expanded the use of surveillance measures such as wiretapping, drone video recordings and undercover policing.

Controversial from the beginning, the lawsuit was organized by the German Society for Civil Rights (GFF). The plaintiffs were a group of citizens that included a lawyer, a journalist, and members of the fan scene for soccer team FC Hansa-Rostock.

Lawyers argued that the so-called Security and Order Law (SOG) invaded personal liberties by allowing police to install spyware on phones and computers or use drones to capture video of suspects. Authorities were given the right to take such measures with only probable cause, the plaintiffs argued, and without the need for hard evidence of a danger to the community.

The police said they could only carry out these measures if they obtained a court order from the judge.

The case is seen as a possible indicator of the fate of similar laws that have been enacted across Germany's 16 federal states. 

es/sms (AFP, dpa)

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