German officials warn of Net 'big brother'

"It's as if the interior ministers had demanded that all the data about postal traffic -- senders, addressees, postmarks, etc. -- must be stored," Werner Kessel, commissioner for data protection in the state of Mecklenburg-Lower Pomerania, said Wednesday.

The ministers, in a statement dated 24 November, called on authorities in Europe and worldwide to develop "international minimum penal standards" for combating online crime. They said it is "urgently necessary to require providers to register and store the 'digital footprints' that every Internet user leaves behind in principle." The lack of clear legislation on the issue, the ministers said, makes the fight against Internet crime more difficult.

Kessel, along with his fellow office-holder from Hamburg, organised a joint statement by the commissioners for data protection from all but one of Germany's 16 states, protesting the proposal. It stated, in part, "Such a regulation would be unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court has repeatedly determined that the storage of personal data must not lead to an all-around surveillance of citizens. That would, however, be the case in the area of Internet usage with the sought-after rule."

Kessel said, "There already exist laws allowing police to go onto the Internet and pursue crimes, and that's how it should be ... But the demand to store all the electronic traces of users, we hold as unnecessary and disproportionate."

Recent legislation on police access to data in other European countries has raised a storm of protest. The UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), granting authorities sweeping access to e-mail and other encrypted Internet communication, became law in October. The government of the Netherlands has moved to broaden police snooping powers, in advance of an anticipated international treaty on "cyber crime."

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