Source: International Herald-Tribune 
Author: Alan Cowell New York Times Service
Pubdate: 17 Jan 1998


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.