Source: International Herald-Tribune Author: Alan Cowell New York Times Service Contact: Pubdate: 17 Jan 1998 A POSTWAR EAVESDROPPING TABOO FALLS IN BONN BONN---Dismantling a cardinal principle of postwar Germany's protection of individual privacy, Parliaraent on Friday approved a law that would permit the police to bug private homes for the first time since the Nazi era. Previously, the authorities were able to tap telephones in exceptional circumstances relating to crime and terrorism, officials at the Justice Ministry said, and to use listening devices to monitor such emergencies as hostage-taking. But the constitution guaranteed the inviolability of private hornes from all forms of eavesdropping including long-range or concealed electronic devices. By a vote of 452 to 184, the lower house of Parliament narrowly secured the two-thirds majority necessary for changing the constitution, ostensibly to give the police greater powers to combat organized crime and money-laundering. But the move drew an outcry from civil rights campaigners and from journalists, doctors and lawyers fearful that conversations with sources, patients or clients could now be overheard. Only priests, defense lawyers meeting accused criminals and legislators will be lawfully protected from eavesdropping The German Journalists' Association said it was considering an appeal to the highest constitutional court against the new law, which still has to be approved by the upper house of Parliament, composed of representatives of the nation's 16 federal states most of which are controlled by the opposition Social Democratic Party. "This is about nothing less than the constitution and the elementary right of every individual to a tiny core of privacy," asserted a commentary Friday in the liberal Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. To secure evidence, the newspaper said, police and prosecutors would be perrnitted to eavesdrop on "private homes, hotel rooms, company offices, lawyers' rooms medical practices, labor rooms, drug advice centers and editorial of fices." "Even if the new law leads to the downfall of this drug-dealer or that extortionist, this attack on the constitution is not justified," it said. And Karsten Vilmar, head of the leading physicians' professional association, declared: "Medical practices and hospitals are places where people find protection. An intrusion into this area raises questions about medical confidentiality and thus the basic rights of the patients. " The concerns reflect Germany's postwar obsession with privacy and information protection laws as an antidote to the whole,sale intrusions of the Gestapo, Hitler's secret police. By contrast, modern Germany is latticed with ahmost as many rules to safeguard personal privacy as there are laws to regulate individual behavior: one set of rules, for instance, forbids phones that allow people to listen in on extensions; another decrees when people may mow the lawn or wash the car. The vote followed negotiations between Chancellor Helmet Kohl's dominant Christian Democratic Unionand other political groups traditionally more protective of civil rights. Manfred Such, a member of the Free Democratic Party, the junior coalition partner, said the vote spelled a "Black Friday" for Germany's constitutional processes. But Manfred Kanther, the Christian Democrat interior minister, said the new measures will "be used only rarely to fight crime." In recent years, Bonn has been increasingly worried by the spread of organized crime groups, starting with the Italian mafia and Turkish and Kurdish narcotiocs networks. In a staternent seeking to justify the bill, Joerg van Essen, a leading Free Democrat, said the measures would be used only in cases where there were strong suspicions of criminal activity and when there was no other way of gathering evidence.