Germany, surveillance laws, privacy, journalism | Homeland Security Newswire

SurveillanceGermany’s highest court reviewing country’s permissive new surveillance laws

Published 30 January 2018

German journalists, press groups, and civil rights advocates have asked Germany’s Constitutional Court to review the legality of the government’s surveillance capabilities. The plaintiffs contend that the law allows for the “virtually unrestricted” monitoring of foreign reporters.

Several journalists and civil rights advocacy groups have asked Germany’s Constitutional Court to review the legality of the government’s surveillance capabilities. The plaintiffs contend that the law allows for the “virtually unrestricted” monitoring of foreign reporters.

The complaint aims to strip the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND)the country’s intelligence agency, of its powers to engage in mass surveillance of foreign journalists’ communications, said Frank Überall, chairman of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV).

Under the new law, journalists are technically no longer able to guarantee the protection of their source’s identity, Überall noted.

DW reports that while the plaintiffs are mainly foreign reporters working on investigative stories, their claim has the support of multiple bodies, including the DJV, Reporters with Borders (RSF), the German Union of Journalists and Germany’s Society for Civil Rights.

The sweeping new surveillance laws were passed by the Bundestag in October 2016. The reforms were written to allow the BND to run espionage operations at EU institutions and other EU member states, provided they are aimed at gathering “information of significance for [Germany’s] foreign policy and security.”

The laws also permit the BND to cooperate with foreign intelligence services like the NSA if such cooperation serves specific purposes, including fighting terrorism, supporting the German military on foreign missions, or collecting information concerning the safety of Germans abroad.

The law prohibits the monitoring of German citizens – both in Germany and those who reside elsewhere in the EU – but it contains no restrictions on the surveillance of non-Germans.

Germany’s surveillance laws allowed the BND to “monitor journalists abroad with virtually no restrictions and share the information with other secret services,” said Christian Mihr of Reporters without Borders Germany.

Mihr said that the laws also undermined the ability for German news organizations to operate and collaborate internationally. “Projects like the ‘Paradise Papers’ show that investigative journalism is increasingly emerging out of international cooperation,” he said.

DW notes that a report in German weekly Spiegel last year found that the BND had targeted reports in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, tapping their phone and fax machines. The reporters worked as correspondents for a number of international news outlets, including the New York Times and Reuters news agency.