[Reader-list] German Surveillance moves (new york times)
ravis at sarai.net
Mon Oct 1 16:42:38 IST 2001
October 1, 2001
Shocked Germany Weakens Cherished Protections
By STEVEN ERLANGER
BERLIN, Sept. 30 Last week, Berlin's prestigious Humboldt University
reluctantly confirmed that it had given information on 23 Arab students to
the German government. While the university hastened to say that it had
told the students of the questions asked about them, the disclosure of what
would have been private information only a few weeks ago represents an
important change here.
Personal data is particularly well protected in Germany after the
experience of Nazism and the East German secret police. But these
safeguards are now being loosened as Germany becomes a locus of the
investigations into the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
which were carried out in part by Arab students who had lived quietly on
The secrecy of telephone, banking, employment and university records is
being newly examined and the draft of a more liberal immigration law has
been scrapped. The government has also moved to centralize oversight of
intelligence agencies that had been largely run by the states and to
improve cooperation with the local police.
Germany, shocked and embarrassed by its use as a haven for Islamic
terrorists, has moved quickly to increase its surveillance of suspected
groups, even at the price of some of the privacy protections the country
has held so dear.
There are serious discussions about tightening laws that regulate freedom
of movement, requiring fingerprints in identity cards and passports and
removing some of the protection religious groups have had.
Already Parliament has approved legislation that allows German authorities
to prosecute people charged with terrorism in other countries, tightens
airport security and, most important, removes a constitutional provision
forbidding the government from banning any group, even one advocating
terrorism, that describes itself as religious or faith-based.
At Humboldt and other universities, the security services and the police
are seeking information for a new wave of what is known here as "profiling"
looking for other potential terrorists by examining records for racial
and national origin, travel movements and financial transactions.
That effort will increase on Monday, with a police operation nationwide
aimed at cracking down on suspected criminals and terrorists, including
searches without warrants of homes and apartments.
In an interview published today, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said, "I would
have nothing against the idea of introducing regular questioning" of
foreigners seeking to become naturalized German citizens by the Agency for
the Protection of the Constitution, a rough equivalent of the F.B.I.
Senior German intelligence officials say they have no real idea how many
terrorist sleeper cells could be planted on German soil, like the Arab men
in Hamburg who used the efficiency, easy travel, good communications and
multiethnic character of a large German city to plan their attacks. But
German laws that protect the individual from the state are another
important factor, the officials say.
For example, a senior German intelligence officer pointed out, the police
here cannot, as in the United States, detain a material witness to even a
terrorism inquiry without firm evidence connecting that person to a crime.
The new actions and proposals have prompted concern among civil liberties
groups and important members of the Green Party, which is in the governing
coalition. Cem Ozdemir, an ethnic Turk who is the Green's parliamentary
spokesman on domestic affairs, said any changes in privacy laws must be
examined carefully first to see if they will be effective in fighting
Mr. Schröder was even forced this weekend to deny talk that the coalition
itself could collapse over the strains produced by the Sept. 11 attacks,
and that the Greens might be replaced by the always-flexible Free
The disagreements are so strong about a new immigration law, for instance,
that senior government officials say they may not be able to come up with a
satisfactory compromise before federal elections next year.
There is a new mood, however, reflected in a vote last week in the
city-state of Hamburg to get tough on crime. A local judge, Ronald Schill,
won more than 19 percent of the vote with a new party committed to cracking
down hard on criminals, foreigners and illegal immigrants. Mr. Schill's
performance was aided by the disclosures that Hamburg had harbored at least
five of the men accused of taking part in or plotting the terror attacks.
The government has already introduced $1.4 billion in new taxes on
cigarettes and insurance policies to pay for increased security screening
of airport employees and will propose tougher sentences for serious cases
of tax evasion if they are connected to the financing of terrorist activities.
Interior Minister Otto Schily, who once was the defense lawyer for members
of the Red Army Faction terrorist group, said he was preparing a new
package of security measures, including a formal check with domestic
intelligence agencies before granting residence visas. Mr. Schily would
also like to limit the age at which minors can join their parents in
Germany to 12.
Fighting terrorism requires "the extremely serious, determined application
of aggressive measures," Mr. Schily said. "Data protection is fine, but it
must not handicap the prevention of crime or of terrorism."
Mr. Schily is also proposing European-wide changes, including centralized
registration centers in European Union countries, greater standardization
and more access to visa data and legal clarification in issues surrounding
Profiling was used widely in Germany in the 1970's against the domestic
terrorists Mr. Schily sometimes defended. The Red Army Faction, sometimes
known as the Baader-Meinhof group, kidnapped and murdered bankers and
Mr. Schröder also supports the urgent loosening of Germany's banking laws
in order to disrupt the financing of terrorism. "I understand that very
many people see bank secrecy as a sort of Magna Carta of internal security,
but that is not the case," he said.
Ernst Welteke, who heads the Bundesbank, said that he approved. "I find it
very difficult to understand when investigations of tax evasion, drug
trafficking or terrorism run up against a brick wall with the words `bank
secrecy begins here' written on it," he said.
Germany has a federal commissioner for data protection, whose agency
monitors the government. So far, says Peter Büttgen, the spokesman, Germans
should not be unduly concerned.
"We're remaining watchful that some of the strident words used in the
aftermath of the attacks are not followed by deeds," he said. "We're in a
good position by international comparison," he added, noting that much of
the European Union's guidelines on data protection are based on Germany's laws.
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