Wed, Mar. 05, 2008

Discovery of Constitutional Right

GC - Washington.   Germany's constitutional court in Karlsruhe ruled February 27, 2008 that authorizing online searches of personal computers is unconstitutional. The landmark ruling in cases BVerfG 1 BvR 370/07 and 1 BvR 595/07 came in response to a case filed by former North-Rhine Interior Minister Gerhart Baum, three lawyers and a journalist.

The ruling overturned a 2006 law adopted in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia giving intelligence agencies wide-ranging powers to hack into terror suspects' computers using Trojan-type software. Justice Hans-Jürgen Papier wrote the voided law violated citizens' constitutional right to privacy.

Intelligence agencies will now only be permitted to collect data from computer hard drives if there is proof its use would protect human lives or if evidence shows state property is endangered. After securing permission, law enforcement agencies may upload spyware onto a suspect's computer through email.

The establishment of a constitutional right to PC privacy initiates opportunity for a more in-depth look at Internet security surveillance and provides a basis for future debates on security and information technology. Justice Papier commented in a separate statement that for the first time, the constitution is protecting the confidentiality and integrity of information technology systems.

The newly-discovered constitutional right changes the legal and political landscape dramatically. It appears to ban a long-discussed federal move for draft legislation to expanded the authority of federal investigators in Internet matters.

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