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German government approves plod-spyware law

Uncharted territory

The German government yesterday passed a controversial anti-terror law that would grant police the power to monitor private residences, telephones and computers.

Instead of tapping phones, they would be able to use video surveillance and even spy software to collect evidence. Physically tampering with suspects' computers would still not be allowed, but police could send anonymous e-mails containing trojans and hope the suspects infect their own computers.

Government cyberspying, the legislators point out, would only be conducted in a handful of exceptional cases.

The bill, called a building block for Germany's security architecture by interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble, still needs to be approved by the lower and upper chamber of the German parliament.

The federal law was passed after months of heated debate. The proposed plans would not only widen the anti-terror skills of police and the Federal Crime Office, better known as BKA, it would also reverse recent rulings by Germany's constitutional court and Federal Supreme Court. A law which permits authorities in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia to spy on computer users was rejected recently and last year the the Supreme Court ruled online police spying was unlawful.

Privacy and civil liberties groups are strongly opposed. They point at a recent scandal at Deutsche Telecom, which illegally monitored phone call records to see if it could stop leaking information to journalists. Sebastian Edathy, chairman of the Bundestag's domestic affairs committee, yesterday told Deutsche Welle that "we don't want a spy state." He believes the proposed measures are "uncharted territory in the law".

Max Stadler, a security expert with the German Free Democratic Party, warned earlier the plan would weaken the trust of German citizens in government.

Earlier this year Schäuble also approved legislation making it a duty for phone companies to retain billing records for six months. ®

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