Mon, May. 10, 2004

Rule of Law in Times of Terror

CK - Washington.   Today, German Attorney General Brigitte Zypries addressed a varied group of guests invited by Friedrich Ebert Foundation, one of the advisory groups to the German political parties. Its director, Dieter Dettke, explained that the German AG, unlike the U.S. counterpart, exists principally to guard citizens from state action and to protect their constitutional rights. The enforcement role which characterizes the AG in Washington is held in Germany by the Secretary of the Interior.

Zypries' remarkable presentation Freedom, Democracy and the Rule of Law in an Era Marked by International Terrorism will be on the Internet at the foundation's and the Bundesministerium der Justiz web site for downloads in English and German. Her main point is the balance to be struck between the protection of citizen rights and preventive and enforcement action against terrorism. German terrorism in the 1970's generated a benefit for the current wave of international terrorism in that that balance had been struck back then, by the enactment of new, hotly debated laws and the resulting scrutiny applied by the legal system.

Another side effect is that while courts cannot deviate from the German and international principle of in dubio pro reo even when a suspect appears guilty of participation in terrorism, Germany has learned to be open to negotiating on a case by case basis means to strengthen international cooperation. For instance, restrictions imposed by the United States on evidence supplied to Germany forced a court to free a criminal defendant already convicted of terrorism, but both German and the United States authorities, as well as their counterparts elsewhere, recognized the need to elevate international cooperation in criminal matters. Some fruit of that awareness has been born in the new Schengen/European Union cooperation efforts, such as in the mutual recognition of arrest warrants.

An overriding theme of Zypries' presentation and her answers to numerous questions from the audience was that societies need to abide by Prime Minister Blair's appeal to preserve the universal values of humanity. This objective can be accomplished within the rule of law, without resort to extraordinary treatment of enemies and suspects or to extraordinary adjudicative fora. Germany's own history causes her to believe that extraordinary fora are less desirable than solid efforts to address even extraordinary crime within the ordinary, constitutionally mandated system of justice governed by the rule of law.

Transparency in Internet

CK - Washington.   A two-day conference, Suchmaschinen - Neue Herausforderungen für die Medienpolitik, Search Engines--New Challenge for Media Policy, sponsored by Bertelsmann Foundation in Berlin explores transparency in the internet. The focus of Bertelsmann efforts are search engines. The foundation developed a code of conduct for search engines and presented it in the fall of 2003. Four German-language search engines adopted the code.

The conference begins today. Search engines tend to mislead consumers, the foundation's researchers discovered. At least users in German-speaking countries understand search engines to function as neutral information sorting systems and remain unaware of biased algorithms, engine spamming and other factors designed or suitable to influencing search results. The code of conduct is supposed to enhance transparency and quality in the search field. Although speakers include participants from the United States, the Bertelsmann Foundation incentive appears limited to the German-speaking markets and similar legal systems.

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