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Germany

Striking the Right Balance Between Freedom and Security

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, deputy parliamentary leader of the FDP and high-profile civil rights campaigner, talked to DW-WORLD.DE about Germany's current security debate.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger -- swimming against the stream

DW-WORLD.DE: The recent arrest of one of the two suspected suitcase bombers has reignited a debate about beefing up national security. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants to give police greater jurisdiction, and even basic principles, such as the principal witness law, are up for discussion. What's your own position on these developments?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: So many sweeping security packages were approved in the aftermath of September 11 that it's simply wrong to suggest there are any security shortfalls in Germany. But if there is room for improvement then it's in the cooperation between the various Federal Offices for the Protection of the Constitution from Hamburg to Munich, Bremen to Berlin. For now, liaising doesn't work, as illustrated by the attempted ban of the far-right National Democratic Party. But it's wrong to give people the idea that Germany has security deficits.

DW-WORLD.DE: The suspects would never have been caught without video surveillance cameras….

A breach of personal freedom?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: But that goes to show that security is adequate. We have cameras in all our central stations, which has had a positive effect. But setting up cameras in all 5,700 regional stations is out of the question. In suburban areas we have to do what needs to be done, and to a large extent that is already in place. This is a matter of states' responsibility. Changing existing laws is superfluous.

DW-WORLD.DE: Have the suitcase bombers fundamentally changed the security situation in Germany?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: I think not. Everyone knows that after September 11, every country in Europe faces an increased abstract terrorist threat, and in Germany this was spelled out by the discovery of these homemade bombs. In London, Madrid and Istanbul we've already seen what terrorists are capable of.

DW-WORLD.DE: Every attack or attempted attack is inevitably followed by renewed calls to tighten security. Is this a natural reflex?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: Within the area of homeland security, these are standard reflexes and rituals. Interior ministers, state secretaries and security authorities will always use the opportunity to tell the public what needs to change, and in fact, what they should focus on is everything that has already been done in Germany, what's already in place. Certain things simply won't every work, and for me, future deployment of the Bundeswehr as a security force in stations comes under this category.

DW-WORLD.DE: Is there any alternative to tightening security legislation?

European cities face a heightened terrorism threat post-9/11

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: I think we need to make the most of our existing operative capacities, but I also think it's extremely important we take stock of what changing security legislation in the five years since the horrifying events of September 11 has actually brought about. We need a detailed analysis of which measures work, which don't work and what effect recording highly personal data has on respectable citizens. Questions like these need to be part of the security debate.

DW-WORLD.DE: Those who say we need to tighten security believe you have to compromise freedom in order to protect it.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: This theory is incorrect. You can curtail freedom completely and still have no guarantee of safety -- as you can see from totalitarian dictatorships, which still have problems with criminality, attacks and so on. You have to strike the right balance between freedom and security, and this is what we've managed to do in Germany. We have a high level of security. Authorities are engaged in a number of activities the public is completely unaware of. Bank accounts are monitored, the intelligence services can find out about travel bookings. We have a very dense network. That's what we need to tell the public, rather than worrying them further.

DW-WORLD.DE: Ever since your campaign against what became known as the German Eavesdropping Law, you have had a reputation as a vehement defender of the right to privacy. How has this been affected by the attacks of September 11?

In 2003, the Constitutional Court ruled that the eavesdropping law was unconstitutional

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: Unfortunately, ever fewer people are willing to defend the right to privacy, even though it's a basic constitutional right. Those who do, increasingly find their backs are against the wall. When you're swimming against the stream, it's more important than ever to speak up on behalf of personal freedom.

DW-WORLD.DE: Do you think state control might be relaxed if the situation changes again?

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: After decades of political experience, I'm inclined to say that the state won't ever reverse progress it has made in curtailing personal freedoms. Legislation passed in response to the terrorism practiced by the Red Army Faction (eds.: a German left-wing terrorist group active in the 1970s and '80s), which cannot be compared to the present threat, has never been reviewed even though it's now redundant. The state is never going to relinquish power it's won.

DW-WORLD.DE: Which is something you will continue to tackle.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: Of course. The country needs someone to give the Constitutional Court a chance to make clear that personal freedom cannot be infringed in all cases.

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