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German court rejects police use of spyware

Prosecutors wanted to install Trojan horse on terrorism suspects' PCs but German court says that's illegal. Now its up to Parliament to change the law.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

Porn advertisers aren't the only ones interested in sneaking spyware onto PCs. It would be extremely handy for law enforcement to monitor the web activities of, say, suspected child pornographers or terrorists. In the US, that's legal if the police get a warrant to monitor the computer based on probable cause.

But in Germany, a federal court ruled, police cannot secretly search hard drives over the Internet, AP reports.

The decision of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe bars police from using software to search through remote hard drives unless parliament passes a law explicitly allowing the technique. Police, however, still will be allowed to seize evidence from PCs when conducting searches in person.

The country's top security official, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, called on Parliament to make the necessary changes.

"It is indispensable for criminal investigators to be able to carry out online searches secretly and with a corresponding order from a judge," he said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors wanted to use Trojan horse programs to investigate a suspected terrorist group. Since other forms of electronic surveillance are permissible, prosecutors argued computer spying should be, too. But the court denied the request, a decision praised by opposition Left and Free Democrat parties.

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