Watchdogs snap over German government snooping powers

German data protection watchdogs are up in arms over proposals which would allow police to snoop on the surfing patterns of web users.

German data protection watchdogs are up in arms over proposals which would allow police to snoop on the surfing patterns of web users.

Privacy organisations in 15 of the 16 German states have publicly objected to the proposed legislation, which would give security forces retrospective access to data about the time surfers spend online. As the law stands, police are allowed to monitor internet traffic once they have the permission of a judge or attorney-at-law. There is no way for the courts to grant access to data generated in the past as ISPs are not legally obliged to store it. But the proposal, put forward on 24 November, would require ISPs to keep records of their traffic, and allow police to consult that data retrospectively if it becomes law. German ISPs would be obliged to store the IP numbers of sites their customers visit, and the times they log on and off. Reinhard Vetter, commissioner for data privacy of Bavaria - one of the states objecting to the proposed law - said: "We think this is unconstitutional. We think the use of the internet by ordinary people should not be watched by national authorities." Helga Schumacher, spokeswoman for the Federal Privacy Commission, pointed out the proposal would only bring internet law into line with laws governing fixed and mobile telephones. Data regarding voice services is stored for billing purposes, and courts can grant police access to it. Schumacher said the main targets of such legislation would be child pornographers and neo-nazis. The privacy watchdog for the state of Thüringen was the only one not to join the chorus of disapproval. No one from the organisation was available for comment. The news comes after details of a similar proposal in the UK were revealed. It emerged at the weekend that the Home Office is considering the creation of a huge data warehouse to store data about every phone call, email and fax transmission made by UK citizens for a period of seven years. By Ben King