Germany moves to relax CCTV rules
Stasi offices after being raided in 1990. Source: Wikimedia
The German coalition government has approved an expansion of video surveillance, as police called on the national government to rethink its barriers on CCTV after last Monday’s Christmas market attack.
Germany has more legal restrictions on the use of surveillance cameras than other EU countries as a legacy of its Cold War years. No video has been released of the attack in one of the busiest squares in Berlin.
The proposed legal changes would allow an increased use of CCTV in sporting venues and shopping malls, while pressuring data protection commissioners to give greater weight to “the protection of life, health and freedom” when ruling on whether to permit surveillance.
The move is not a direct reaction to the truck attack on Breitscheidplatz, but the result of a policy decision taken by home affairs minister, Thomas De Maizière, after July’s gun attack in Munich and an attempted suicide bombing in Ansbach.
The power to allow security cameras in public spaces would remain with German states and city-states.
Only the regions of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Saxony and Saarland allow CCTV cameras in “public places”, which does not cover railway stations or public transport.
Berlin has around 15,000 CCTV cameras installed on vehicles, of which 3,200 can be used for live transmission. Data privacy laws prevent the authorities from installing cameras in public spaces that transmit live video.
A move to allow CCTV in Berlin’s crime hotspots were blocked by the Pirate party, which won seats in the parliament in 2011 on a data protection agenda.
Berlin’s police say that restrictions put them at a disadvantage compared with counterparts in regions such as Bavaria, where mobile CCTV can be set up.
“We need better and more intelligent surveillance in public places, and Monday’s tragedy has shown precisely why,” said Bodo Pfalzgraf of the German police union. “We would know a lot more about the perpetrator by now if we had been allowed to install video cameras on Breitscheidplatz. We couldn’t have prevented the attack, but our investigation would be more advanced by now. CCTV can save lives”.
Germany, meanwhile, is facing an unprecedented wave of cyber-security breaches, which fit into national fears over privacy.
Early this month, almost 2,500 leaked documents were released on WikiLeaks, detailing cooperation between German and US intelligence agencies.
Nearly a million internet routers operated by Deutsche Telekom were taken offline in a hacking operation.
The headquarters of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union was hacked.
Green Party politician Renate Künast was forced to disassociate herself from a bogus quote expressing sympathy for an Afghan migrant suspected of rape and murder.
“I think this is a real threat to German democracy,” said Lars Klingbeil, a Social Democratic Party MP who works on cyber security.
“What we’re seeing now is only the beginning,” Klingbeil said. “There’s the problem of fake news, fake quotes and even fake videos floating around, and people believe this stuff, because they’re losing faith in traditional institutions.”