The German federal government agreed on new guidelines for data retention. In the future, the connection data of telephone calls and online traffic should be kept up to ten weeks. The opposition is outraged.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere described the guidelines as "a good and wise compromise." The proposed regulations would prove effective and modest at the same time, he added.
"The content of communications may not be saved in any way," Justice Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Berlin. In addition, "all e-mail traffic will be excluded from retention" and it would not be permitted to create a personal profile of a person or record their movements. Several groups of people and professions, such as doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians and journalists, are also exempt from the surveillance.
In the future, the connection data of telephone calls and online traffic should be kept for ten weeks only
The data would only be accessible to security authorities, who will also require the permission of a judge before accesing it. Data retention centers would be located in Germany, Maas explained.
But the opposition, as well as many privacy advocates, condemned the government's new guidelines, saying that it's violating citizens' right to privacy.
The Greens have strongly criticized the Social Democrats (SPD), who formerly opposed data retention but are now in coalition with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives. De Maiziere, a Christian Democrat, and Maas, from the SPD, said they had reached a new agreement on the need to store data - after months of public disputes - following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris this year.
Renate Künast, the chairwoman of the Committee for Justice and Consumer Protection in the German parliament, accused the SPD leader and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of "caving in."
"From the determined resistance against data retention to the final agreement in less than six weeks," Katrin Göring-Eckardt, Green party co-chair, said. "With data retention SPD is grabbing deep into the citizens' right to privacy without really preventing terrorist attacks."
Meanwhile, Left Party leader Gregor Gysi played on the claims of improved security, saying on Twitter: "The Grand Coalition is becoming a security risk for Germany."
'No contradiction between security and freedom'
But the government in Berlin has countered that proper data retention could help to improve the security of German citizens.
The regulations are focused on fighting terrorism and criminal organizations, Interior Minister de Maziere stressed. However, he acknowldedged it could not be ruled out that retention centers might come under attack from opponents of the rules. Still, de Maizieres said, these new guidelines could help ensure such perpetrators end up "behind bars".
The European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that EU-wide policy on the matter that required telecommunications companies to store communications data of customers violated citizens' right to privacy. The court argued it created an impression among citizens that they were constantly under surveillance.
Similarly, Germany's former metadata retention laws - those put forward by the EU - were declared unconstitutional by the country's Constitutional Court in 2010, forcing the government to dissolve them. At the time, everybody's metadata was stored for six months, with unfettered access available to investigators without a judge's permission.
Ministers Maas and de Maiziere had argued for months about whether Germany should return to some form data retention again.
On Wednesday, the formerly reticient Justice Minister Maas said he was confident that a law could be drafted soon to be introduced to the German Bundestag. Whether the Constitutional Court would reject the plans on data retention again remains to be seen.
SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel praised his minister of justice. "The guidelines Heiko Maas has presented shows that there is no contradiction between security and freedom," Gabriel said.
jil/msh (dpa, AFP)