Parliament Debates Data Retention in Wake of Telekom Scandal | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.06.2008
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Parliament Debates Data Retention in Wake of Telekom Scandal

A week after it emerged that the telecoms giant had spied on its own employees, German MPs discussed what lawmakers could do to protect people from illegal surveillance. But there was little agreement.

Telekom logo with surveillance cameras

The Telekom kept too close an eye -- and ear -- on its workers

Telekom boss René Obermann may have announced additional training for employees about data retention laws, but that did little to cool the tone of the Bundestag debate on Wednesday, June 4 about the spying scandal.

All the major parties condemned the illegal surveillance at the telecommunications giant, with the Left Party's Petra Pau going furthest, saying it amounted to an intentional violation of the German constitution.

But the partners in the governing grand coalition -- the conservative CDU-CSU and the Social Democrats -- disagreed vehemently over whether anti-surveillance legislation needed to be bolstered to prevent similar incidents in future.

SPD representative Michael Buersch called for the maximum fine in cases of misuse of personal data to be raised to 300,000 ($465,000).

"There is a real need for action that exists right now," Bürsch said.

But CDU legal expert Juergen Gehb rejected those ideas, as did conservative Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said it would be better to engage companies in dialogue.

Opposition against data retention

Renate Künast speaking

Kuenast said the amount of data stored should be drastically reduced

Meanwhile, the opposition called for the current data retention law, under which information about all telephone and Internet connections in Germany is saved for six months, to be scrapped.

Pau said the legislation itself, and not the misuse of retained data, was the problem. That position was seconded by the Greens.

"We have to ensure that as few data as possible are saved," said Green parliamentary fraction leader Renate Kuenast. "Automatic data retention has to go because it's a temptation for thieves."

The Free Democrats' spokeswoman for internal affairs Gisela Pilz accused the grand coalition partners of paving the way for the Telekom scandal.

The data retention law, which came into force at the beginning of this year, was passed under the Conservative-Social Democratic government.

Public mistrust

Session of the Bundestag

Parliamentarians could only agree that they condemned the spying affair

In 2005, and likely in 2006, Telekom hired an outside firm check for calls made by company employees to journalists as part of an effort to discover the source of leaks to the press. The abuse therefore happened before the current data retention law.

Nonetheless the scandal has damaged public confidence in the confidentiality with which their data is handled.

A poll commissioned by the television news station N24 found that 83 percent of those asked believed the Telekom affair was not an isolated incident, and that 57 favored beefing up data-protection legislation.

Leaders of industry also said they were concerned about the issue.

"With increasing data surveillance, the risks of abuse go up and trust in information-technology systems goes down," said the Director of the Association of German Industry, Werner Schnappauf, in an interview with the Spiegel news magazine. "That damages our free social order."

But Schnappauf said also said he did not think changes in legislation were necessary.

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