Bundestag allows Big Brother into German homes

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The Independent Online
Germany broke with a post-war taboo yesterday by legalising police bugging of private homes. The law authorising eavesdropping was passed by just over two thirds of the Bundestag, clearing by only four votes the hurdle laid down for constitutional amendments.

If approved by the second chamber, the Bundesrat, German police officers will have similar rights and obligations as their colleagues in other European countries. Permission for such measures will have to be approved by courts individually, and can only be granted if they serve an ongoing investigation into serious crimes.

The homes of priests, lawyers and MPs will continue to be immune to electronic surveillance. Doctors, tax advisers and journalists may be bugged, but a court must decide afterwards whether the information can be used.

Critics say the measure gives law enforcement authorities a way to introduce evidence from doctors and others who now have the right to refuse testimony. A journalists' union has threatened to challenge the measure in the Constitutional Court.

Although the wording of the law is the result of all-party discussions, serious reservations exist both on the left and the libertarian right. The previous Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, resigned because she strongly disagreed with the proposed Bill.

The ban on bugging was one of the last vestiges of the 1949 constitution drawn up with the specific purpose of preventing a recurrence of Nazism. As a result of that Basic Law, Germans have tended to enjoy more protection from Big Brother than citizens of most democracies.