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German Court Abolishes German Snooping Law 201

Robert writes to mention that Germany's highest court has imposed limitations on the amount of spying governmental bodies can do on a suspect's computer. The ruling comes in response to a state law on North Rhine Westphalia that had allowed secret services to peer into a citizen's computer. "Court President Hans-Juergen Papier said that using such software contravened rights enshrined in Germany's constitution, adding that the decision would serve as a precedent across the country. The ruling emphasized that cyber spying by the authorities would have to receive the permission of a judge. The German government has described cyber spying as a vital tool in fighting terrorism."
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German Court Abolishes German Snooping Law

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  • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:03PM (#22577702) Homepage
    Also interesting is the article linked in TFA [bbc.co.uk] which gives an overview of domestic spying in Germany, Italy, the UK, and Greece, France, and Denmark.

    I have newfound respect for the Greeks.
  • Re:Crazy World (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:03PM (#22577706)
    ??? Where did you hear that BS? Both is not true. (I am German)
  • Re:Crazy World (Score:2, Informative)

    by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:10PM (#22577800)
    If you're registered as a member of an evangelic or catholic church you pay church taxes. I think you inherit that state from your parents by default, you can leave the church though (don't expect the church to like it if you want a church wedding though).

    Also you register with the town hall, not the police station.
  • by stevedcc ( 1000313 ) * on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:16PM (#22577898)

    1) Germany doesn't have case law - there's no such thing as a precedent under German Law. This court's job is to rule on the legality of laws; the court can interpret how the law should be applied, then that becomes the law: another interpretation can't arise from another court

    2) This is Germany's Constitutional court - there's no higher or lower instance for this type of law.

    IANAL etc.

  • Re:Crazy World (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:31PM (#22578092)

    I was told that by a German friend. (My advisor actually.) He left Germany in part because he found it very stifling, especially academically. If it has changed, perhaps some readers can tell us about this. But it certainly was this way until recently.
    You have to register in the city where you live. Not with the police, but with the city administration. Among other things, your place of residence defines the financial office where you pay your taxes to. Don't know how it is done in the US, but in Germany the cities directly profit from the tax money of their citizens.

    Some religious communities collect a "church tax" via the state tax system. Of course, the money goes to your church, not necessarily the Catholic church. You can declare that you no longer want to pay money for your church (basically that you leave the community), then you don't pay any longer.
  • Re:Crazy World (Score:5, Informative)

    by Knuckles ( 8964 ) <knuckles@NOsPAM.dantian.org> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:36PM (#22578166)
    It's not a tax as such. The state just collects the member fees of the catholic church on the church's behalf. If you don't pay your membership fees, you are not a catholic, as far as the church is concerned. However, I am opposed to the practice because it violates the complete separation of state and church which should be common practice among modern states.
  • Re:Crazy World (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:43PM (#22578282)
    I am German, too. Both things may be misunderstandings, but they are no better that they are described. I've never had to register at the police station, but we have to register at the "Ortsamt" (city agency), now called the "Kundenzentrum" (customer center, seriously). We have a church tax, which we are only required to pay if we are a member of a church. Much worse though, many bishops and cardinals and such people are paid with regular non-optional tax money, which is not very well known.
  • Re:Ummmm.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by saibot834 ( 1061528 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @04:44PM (#22578300)
    Dude, where/when are you living? I happen to live in Germany and I can tell you that there is only a tiny minority of extremists (US has this probably, too). Educate [wikipedia.org] yourself just a tiny bit, please. Imho the amount of assholes in the world is fairly distributed around the world. But prejudice never seems to vanish...

    Now a few words about the actual story: First, it's only partially a victory for privacy. Both the supporters and the opponents of strict security laws count this judgment a success. That's because the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court of Germany [wikipedia.org]) didn't forbid online spying in principle. They found this specific law to be against the constitution, and they ruled that there have to be some security measures (such as authorization by judge in each case), but in principle it is possible for the German government to spy on people.

    On the other hand, they ruled for the first time, that there is a Grundrecht auf Vertraulichkeit und Integrität informationstechnischer Systeme (something like basic right for trust and integrity of IT systems) even though I am not really sure what consequences this will have.
  • by burni ( 930725 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:00PM (#22578604)
    This was a judgement on behalf of a law of one of germanys federal states(1)

    this law was made for giving the state agency "Landesverfassungsschutz"(2)  the ability to install such software, this law was ruled unconstitional.

    But it's not the method itself, which was ruled unconstitutional, but the ruling in its details just restricts future federal laws(3).

    The trojan software can now only be installed under the condition a judge decides to do so,
    and this also only on the following conditions

    - threat to human life ( abduction, murder )
    - threat to the federal republic of germany ( terrorism )

    If information and data is gathered containing sensitive private information,
    this data must be delete just in time and shall not be brought to court under any circumstances,
    this includes the possesion of childpornography.

    (1) similar to the US germany consists as a federal system, including 16 states which form the federal republic of germany

    (2) a like homeland security such way for a single state in the federation,
    germany also has a federal agency which coordinates the work of the state agencies

    (3) which are planned by the ministry of internal afairs with it's minister Wolfgang Schaeuble
    "BKA-Gesetz" (BKA similar to the FBI)
  • Re:Crazy World (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:02PM (#22578644)

    1. The government is asking you what religion you are on your tax forms at all, and that they will be the instrument of collection for the "official" churches of Germany.

    2. That if you are a Catholic, but don't want to pay the tax, you have to lie to the government and say you aren't. In which case you are "removed" from the church and can't have a church wedding.
    I think the historic reason for church taxes is that churches lost a lot of their medieval properties to the state(s) in the German speaking area in the early/middle 19th century. To compensate the loss of income, the state gave the right to the churches to collect taxes from their members (and to get them collected through the state tax agencies). It's up to the churches if they want to make use of this right, though. Several Christian churches in Germany which could collect church tax don't.

    3. That you have to tell the government when you move (police station, town hall, whatever) ?
    I don't think this is crazy. But maybe just because I always was used to it being this way. Your official place of residence defines for example where your tax money is going to. Don't know how you would do this if you don't have to live officially anywhere.

    4. Assigned an official religion by the state, based on what you parent were/are ? This in itself might be the worst of all of it!
    I don't think this is true. As far as the state is concerned, the existing (= tax collecting) religions are various Christian churches, mainly the Catholic and Protestant church. You become member of one of those churches by being baptised. If your parents are Catholic and you are not baptised, you still are not Catholic.
  • Re:Crazy World (Score:5, Informative)

    by Knuckles ( 8964 ) <knuckles@NOsPAM.dantian.org> on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:07PM (#22578736)
    the whole free speech thing regarding neo-nazis

    A few things to consider::

    These laws stem from the post-war time, and while I am fuzzy on the details in Germany, I would imagine that the US had a bigger hand in creating these (IMHO just) laws than the locals, who would have preferred to ignore the whole unhappy Holocaust incident. I certainly was that way in my home country, Austria. Post-war, these laws also had practical application, you really couldn't have Nazi ex-leaders clamoring for support in the streets. (I would think the US Army sees it similarly in Iraq right now, probably somewhat less appropriately.)

    Later, the rights of the Jews and other survivors of the Nazi atrocities had to be considered, of whom many still lived in Germany and Austria, though sadly (but understandably) many chose to stay the hell away -- Germany and Austria not exactly inviting them back, either. It's kind of hard to deal with random (or not so random) Germans/Austrians now living in your house, from which the Nazis had dragged you away into camps in the middle of the night. Those who chose to stay or come back to contribute to the Nazis' successor states' economic and moral resurrection had every right not to be subjugated to dribbling Nazis and neo-nazis in the streets and on the media, denying the Holocaust, etc. In any case, the Nazis had certainly forfeited their right to free speech, don't you think?

    The situation could change now and I am pretty sure that over a number of years, Germany would come to the conclusion that this exception should be removed. However, pretty strong neonazi parties have managed to enter several federal states' governments. These currently do not form a credible political force but are disturbing nonetheless, especially because their success clusters around (but is not strictly exclusive to) the post-GDR eastern federal states. Consequently, this pending discussion in Germany (and Austria) is delayed. In any case, IMHO the German neonazis also have forfeited their free speech rights, through voluntary association with mass murderers and through approx. 70 court-ruled violent crimes per year against foreigners, punks, leftists, jews, etc., the number of reported and unreported cases of course much much higher (dunno the numbers for Austria right now, I'd figure they are way lower per capita).
  • by teslar ( 706653 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @05:08PM (#22578748)

    This court's job is to rule on the legality of laws
    Just nitpicking... this court's job is to rule on the constitutionality of laws. A law is not legal or illegal, it is constitutional or unconstitutional.
  • by Uncle_Al ( 115529 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2008 @06:48PM (#22580458)

    Actually, privacy is only this big a thing in germany in the last 20-something years. The "basic law of informational self-determination" was derived from the constitutional principle that the human dignity shall be inviolabile at a similar court case in 1987 - concerning a census. See also wikipedia:Informational_self-determination [wikipedia.org]

    While nazis are always interesting to bring up, and there were quite a few old-nazis in germany after the war, I do not think that privacy advocates have much to thank them.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.