German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is set to meet his counterpart in Washington to discuss the fight against terrorism. He plans to present Berlin's controversial new airline passenger data law.
It is Thomas de Maiziere's first official trip to the United States since President Donald Trump took office. While some German cabinet members shy away from the governing style of their allies on the other side of the Atlantic, the minister of the interior is content with the state of affairs in Washington. De Maiziere's positive view of the US derives from his first meeting with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at the Munich Security Conference in mid-February, where he said there were "very intensive" efforts on a professional and personal level.
Their next meeting takes place two-and-half months later in Washington. In Munich, de Maiziere said he noticed a "great degree of continuity" in security cooperation between Berlin and Washington. The German politician was pleased to hear the explicit wish of the US to work very closely in all security matters.
Tracking detailed passenger data
Ahead of his arrival in the US capital, De Maiziere presented his American hosts with a gift of sorts - an airline passenger data storage law just passed in the Bundestag last week. Now, airlines are obligated to pass on passenger data for flights to and from Germany to the country's Federal Criminal Police (BKA). This includes names, credit card numbers, luggage information and dietary preferences. Advocates of the new law believe that such information will lead to success in the fight against international terrorism and organized crime.
Homeland Security chief Kelly will be pleased about Germany's quick action, which also means that a European Union directive has been implemented. However, German parliament could have waited until 2018, when the deadline for the implementation of the directive expires. Germany's data protection commissioner Andrea Vosshoff and opposition lawmakers in the Bundestag are not pleased about the expedited law. They would have preferred wait for a soon-to-be-completed European Court of Justice (ECJ) assessment of the flight passenger data agreement with Canada.
No time to examine data protection policy
Vosshoff, who is chosen by parliament, assumes that "the European Court of Justice will fundamentally define the limits of appropriateness for the storage of all flight passenger data without suspicion." The Bundestag, however, ignored Vosshoff's request to wait. Soon, the new law will require that data from 170 million passengers in Germany be collected and stored for five years. It is "essential" to ensure that this highly invasive regulation "complies with basic European rights," Vosshoff said.
The controversial German flight passenger data agreement corresponds in essence to a similar agreement that the EU reached with the US in 2012. It is not surprising that critics find the "passenger name record" database too extensive. But Interior Minister de Maiziere expects a great increase in safety. That is why at his first meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Kelly in Munich, he was already calling for more vigorous action Europe.
De Maiziere says that there is a great deal of data on travel, migration and visa issuance, but that now it is all linked together. That is why he wants data consolidation and the permission to allow intelligence agencies access, "as long as it is possible within the rule of law." These are words that Kelly was pleased to hear on his visit to Germany earlier this year. Now, in Washington, he can get the latest information firsthand from his German counterpart.
Deleting illegal web content
Before de Maiziere flies back home on Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as congressmen and senators. It is expected that the removal of illegal content on the internet will be discussed. The German government, in particular German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, has long been calling for more commitment from US internet giants such as Google or Facebook to delete illegal content. This will probably be the only topic that may not be as pleasant. Otherwise, de Maiziere can expect a friendly trip.