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Court Cases

German court checks anti-terror data retention laws

Germany's highest court has begun an examination of the country's anti-terror data retention law, to see if it complies with the constitution. The rules will be assessed, and perhaps altered, in the coming months.

Akten zu einer Verfassungsbeschwerde gegen die Antiterrordatei werden am 06.11.2012 im Bundesverfassungsgericht in Karlsruhe (Baden-Württemberg) vor Beginn der mündlichen Verhandlung auf die Richterbank gelegt. In der 2007 aktivierten Datei von Polizei und Geheimdiensten sammeln Sicherheitsbehörden in großem Umfang Daten von Terrorverdächtigen und aus deren Umfeld. Ein pensionierter Richter hat dagegen geklagt. Foto: Uli Deck/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Verfassungsbeschwerde gegen die Antiterrordatei

As verbal debate on the issue got underway at Germany's Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on Monday, the judges aired concerns that the criteria regarding whose data could be retained was too vague.

The law, which was passed in 2006 and implemented in 2007, allows for police and Germany's intelligence agencies to collect and save information on terror suspects and those thought to be supporting them into a terror suspect database. Supporters of the law say it is an important tool in combating Islamist extremism in Germany.

"Supporters of violence - couldn't that also mean someone who participates in a sit-in?" wondered Judge Johannes Masing, who will eventually write the court's final verdict, on Tuesday. He also said the clause allowing "supporters of supporters" to be monitored was also vague, giving the example of a person who donated to a kindergarten at a Muslim school as someone who could fall under this category.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was on hand in Karlsruhe to defend the database, which he called a "decisive cornerstone to the security structure."

"Without it," Friedrich said, "the fight against Islamist terrorism would lose one of its most effective tools."

Key political figures from both sides, like the government's special representative for data protection, Peter Schaar, and the head of the Federal Criminal Police Agency, Jörg Ziercke, were on hand to offer their opinions.

Unknowingly involved?

The complaint against the database, brought by a former judge from the constitutional court, claims that it is not specific enough and that it is nearly impossible for a person to know if their actions may trigger German security forces to add their information to the "terror databank."

Thirty-eight agencies have access to the information, which includes information such as a person's full name, birth date, place of residence, religious preference, and bank and telecommunication accounts.

In this way, people who unknowingly come into contact with a terror suspect could have their information stored in the database.

Another purported benefit to the network is that it allows multiple security agencies to share information, but the complaint before the court challenges the legality of this practice, citing laws that separate Germany's police and intelligence agencies.

mz/msh (dpa, dapd, Reuters, AFP)