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German court curbs data collection law

34,000 class action suit pays off

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Germany's Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe today has curbed Germany's wide-reaching data collection law even further, by stating that the data can only be collected and saved in case of real danger to citizens. The Court decided in response to a class action suit filed by 34,000 Germans.

The data collection law, which politicians said would help prevent terrorist attacks, went into effect in January 2008. It gave federal government broad access to stored telephone and internet data, including email addresses, for at least six months.

The bill, part of an EU directive formulated in response to bomb attacks in Madrid and London, immediately sparked controversy among free-market liberals, privacy advocates and civil rights groups, which criticised its scope. In Hamburg, demonstaters staged a mock funeral marking The Death of Privacy.

In December 2007, 34,000 opponents filed the class action suit, the biggest of its kind in Germany.

March saw the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe issue an injunction against the law, saying it needed further review. Authorities would only be allowed to access it under extreme circumstances, and with a warrant. Also, the law could only be used for serious crime investigations such as murder, theft, child pornography, money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and fraud.

Using the saved data for prosecuting individuals who illegally downloaded music and movies was ruled out completely.

The ruling was seen as a serious blow to tighter security measures by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

The ruling today finally puts an end to crossing the limits of constitutionality on citizen rights, critics say. Data can only be collected when the stability or security of Germany or another country need to be defended and "life, limb, and freedom of German citizens" need to be protected. ®

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