Outcry in Bavaria over extending police powers | News | DW | 11.04.2018
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Outcry in Bavaria over extending police powers

An outcry in Munich over legislation to widen police powers has prompted an angry rebuttal from Bavaria's interior minister. Opposition Greens say planned preventive snooping is rejected by 60 percent of Bavarians.

Joachim Herrmann, interior minister in Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) government, has accused opposition parties in the southern state's Munich assembly of staging a "scurrilous disinformation campaign."

Herrmann's moves to reorganize Bavaria's police and amend law for Bavaria's own intelligence service, have led critics and judges to warn during hearings in Bavaria's parliament against precedents being set outside court supervision.

Herrmann's CSU colleague Horst Seehofer last month became federal interior minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government with an agenda to accelerate handling of asylum-seekers in isolated centers.

Critics say Bavaria's 41,000 police personnel, including 33,500 armed officers, will get extended preemptive powers to open private letters, spy on apartments and scan e-mails and telephone conversations. 

Markus Söder and Joachim Herrmann (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Balk)

Herrmann (right) with Bavaria's new premier Söder

Given the CSU's majority, the intended Bavarian police law change could pass in late April, with CSU premier Markus Söder aiming to regain voters from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Bavaria's next regional poll due in October.

Critics speak out

Opposition Greens parliamentary leader Katharina Schulze said Tuesday the survey by the CIVEY research institute showed that Bavarians had "clearly rejected" the CSU government's "surveillance mania."

Critics, including the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), have seized especially on a definition shift in the CSU government's law change from "concrete danger" to "looming danger" as the trigger for police intervention. The SPD is also concerned over a risk of Germany's post-war separation between policing, intelligence gathering and prosecution being blurred.

Katharina Schulze says Bavarians reject the law

Katharina Schulze says Bavarians reject the law

"One must clearly understand that the largest and most comprehensive control capability is about to be created for a police force in Germany since 1945," jurist Hartmut Wächtler told German ARD public television last month.

"Up to now, police have not been permitted to penetrate so deeply into the private lives of citizens," said Wächtler.

More powers than federal detectives

At Bavaria's parliamentary hearing on March 21, Wächtler said a normal citizen who had done nothing but been held in preventive detention would be at risk of losing his or her job and apartment. This would be even worse than for a typical crime suspect.

Munich Regional Court Judge Markus Löffelmann told the hearing that preventive powers would hand Bavarian police even more scope than the BKA Federal Criminal Office counter-terrorism experts had.

Löffelmann went on to list 22 flaws he saw as flouting the constitution — as reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper —  and warned that in future Bavarian police would be able to use informants, eavesdrop on and film apartments, and even use false names to intercept messages.

Keeping pace

In support of Herrmann's initiative, Bayreuth law professor Markus Möstl said police must keep pace with technology trends, for example, by using body cameras, DNA identification, and facial recognition, particularly against Islamist terrorism.

In Bavaria's parliament, Herrmann accused the opposition Greens and Social Democrats (SPD) of spreading "lies" and insisted that police intrusion into citizens' data privacy would be subject to more and not fewer checks by Bavaria's courts.

Under Germany's post-war constitution, policing is a regional prerogative, sometimes with drawbacks for each of the 16 states or Länder, with the federal police (Bundespolizei) focused on patrolling airports and railway stations, and, if needed, the EU member's external border.

Last month, Germany's largest police trade union, the GdP, warned Herrmann and Söder against CSU plans to create Bavaria's own border police force of 1,000 officers, starting in July.

The Bavarian cabinet's decision exhibited disrespect for the Bundespolizei federal police, said GdP deputy chairman Jörg Radek, and was obviously a "tactical electoral maneuver."

Bavaria's police force, including civilian personnel, is the largest among Germany's 16 states.

ipj/jm (epd, AFP, dpa)

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