More danger, more chatter: the security debate in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 25.11.2010
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More danger, more chatter: the security debate in Germany

Since Germany's Interior Ministry announced there were concrete indications of a terror attack in Germany, the security presence around the country has increased - as has the debate about how to guard against an attack.

Police patrol the Reichstag

Debate goes on in the Reichstag amid heightened security

One week ago, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced that there was concrete information suggesting that Islamist extremists had planned an attack for the end of November. He spoke of a 'new situation' regarding the threat of a terror attack in Germany. At the same time, de Maiziere appealed for calm.

"There is cause for concern, but not cause for hysteria," he said.

De Maiziere repeated these words many times, which could also be seen as an appeal to politicians among his own ranks in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

With the increased awareness of a terror threat in Germany, it's a good time for politicians to call for stronger security laws. Volker Kauder, chairman of the parliamentary group made up of the CDU and its Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has reignited a debate on telecommunications data retention.

"In the fight against terrorism, we must be able to access telephone records that may be a little farther in the past," Kauder said.

Constitutionally questionable

Thomas de Maiziere

De Maiziere has called for concern, but not hysteria

This would require telecommunications companies to save information about customers' call history for a certain period of time in case security officials need access to the information at some point.

Germany's previous government, the grand coalition of the CDU and Social Democrats approved such a law, but it was rejected by the country's constitutional court. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has come out against telecommunications data retention and is not budging in the face of increased terror warnings.

"We have no security loopholes that need to be closed with telecommunications data retention," she said. "Those who passed an unconstitutional law should not try to tell me what to do."

The justice ministry is planning to introduce a new and more liberal law for data retention soon. But the debate about new security measures has already gone further.

Suggesting change

First, restructuring the intelligence services is under consideration, which could include integrating the military intelligence services with the foreign and domestic intelligence agencies.

Second, Norbert Geis of the CSU has suggested giving security authorities the power to detain known radical Islamists - described as 'endangerers' - without a court conviction.

Finally, the idea of using soldiers from the German armed forces to help with domestic policing operations is gaining ground, especially among politicians in Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU.

Dieter Wiefelspuetz, interior policy spokesman in parliament for the opposition Social Democrats, has been following the debate on new laws.

A telephone switchboard

Telecom firms would have to archive past data

"If I were to introduce a new bill today, I would need six months to a year to get the law passed by parliament, especially with a complicated law like telecommunications data retention," Wiefelspuetz said.

"That means that we can only address the current situation with the laws and personnel that are available to us today.

"Whoever says 'we need this, that and the other thing' is really just exploiting the current situation."

Media under fire

Politicians aren't the only ones accused of taking advantage of the current situation. Since the German news magazine Der Spiegel printed a story on the weekend outlining details of a possibly planned terror attack, the media has come under fire as well.

According to the magazine, terrorists were planning an attack on the German parliament building, the Reichstag. Since then, security measures around the Reichstag have been significantly increased.

A person with bound wrists

One suggestion is to detain 'endangerers' without conviction

"I can only say that there is a source that indicated that these plans existed," said Georg Mascolo, editor-in-chief of the magazine. "This report along with other indicators alarmed the government so much that they took these steps in response. Whether or not these reports turn out to be true, I can't say. I can only say that I hope that they are not."

Calls that media outlets have taken reports of terror threats too far have been made by politicians, but the German Journalists' Union has defended coverage of this topic.

"Freedom of the press is in the constitution. That's important and must remain that way," said Eva Werner, a spokesperson from union. "There is a rule in the press code about special risks that the media holds itself to. But anything further than that would be a threat to democracy."

The press code is a voluntary commitment among the German media. While it may dictate how the press handles delicate reports like terror warnings, the German media is sure to cover the ongoing security debate to the last detail.

Author: Mathias Boelinger/mz
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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