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German court sides with people over data privacy

brussels bureau

German court sides with people over data privacy


A people’s victory against the menace of the unknown: Germany’s highest court has ruled that a law permitting the storage of data on telephone calls and e-mails, in the interest of fighting terrorism, must be revised.

After more than 30,000 people appealed, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said the law seriously infringed on personal privacy rights.
Security experts had argued the information is crucial.

Federal Criminal Police Office chief Jörg Ziercke said: “Most legal procedures where the Internet is involved cannot be launched unless there is pre-existing stored data. Therefore, this is a question of getting investigations going. Storage makes it possible to shine light on criminal network structures, organised crime and terrorism.”

Civil rights groups argued the law let authorities too close to people’s private lives — even if investigators were not allowed access to the content of phone calls and e-mails.

Although it did not rule out data retention in principle, the court said the law created “a threatening sense of being watched.”

Alexander Alvaro, a German member of the European Parliament said: “I think integrating data storage into German law is very difficult, maybe even impossible. The Constitutional Court also said that data retention in the absense of a concrete suspect must be governed by enormous restrictions, so rigid as to defy practicality. This means that the overall concept of data storage is more or less not doable for Germany.”

The law stems from a 2006 European directive making telecommunications companies retain data for at least six months for potential use in criminal probes.

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