German state considers tighter Net surveillance

The German state government of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) plans a new law that would give criminal investigators in the state greater rights to monitor voice and data services provided by communication companies, and obtain personal data from companies such as banks and airlines, the state Justice Ministry announced on Wednesday.

With the new legislation, the NRW state government is responding to the numerous local arrests of foreign students and business people linked to the Sept. 11 bombings in the United States.

NRW state justice minister Fritz Behrens said, law-enforcement officials need extended surveillance powers to delve deeper into the structures of international terrorism. In addition to the new law, the government plans to increase the number of investigators fighting terrorism and equip them with new technology, Behrens said. He declined to provide details.

The NRW initiative goes one step beyond the so-called Security Package II, a special bundle of surveillance laws approved by the federal government at the end of last year. These laws created a new level of government surveillance, making it much easier for federal and state law enforcement and special crime forces to tap telephone calls, screen email and obtain personal data from public administration agencies and private companies.

A spokeswoman said the state government aims to approve the new law by August.