German Courts Rule on Spying in Cyberspace
The Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe said cyber spying violated individuals’ right to privacy and could be used only in exceptional cases.
Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court has rejected provisions adopted by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia that allowed investigators to covertly search PCs online. In its ruling, the court creates a new right to confidentiality and integrity of personal data stored on IT systems; the ruling expands the current protection provided by the country’s constitutional rights for telecommunications privacy and the personal right to control private information under the German constitution.
In line with an earlier ruling on censuses, the judges found that the modern digital world requires a new right, but not one which is absolute exceptions can be made if there is just cause. The judges did not feel that the blanket covert online searches that North Rhine-Westphalia’s (NRW) provisions allowed fell under that category; rather, these searches were found to be a severe violation of privacy.
The court explained that strict legal provisions apply for covert online searches of PCs, as with exceptional cases of telephone tapping or other exceptions to the right to privacy. Specifically, the judges say that private PCs can only be covertly searched “if there is evidence that an important overriding right would otherwise be violated.”