Germany’s strict privacy laws prevent the widespread usage of surveillance cameras, but the coalition government on Wednesday approved regulation that could change things.
Germany would allow more video surveillance in public places, under a draft law passed by the cabinet on Wednesday, reflecting growing security fears in a country that has for decades been wary of police intrusion.
The bill was agreed in principle by the parties in Angela Merkel’s coalition last month, well before Monday’s deadly truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that was claimed by Islamic State.
Germany suffered two smaller attacks by Islamists over the summer, one on a train, the other at a music festival. Hundreds of sexual assaults last New Year’s Eve also increased concerns about security on German streets.
State surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany because of extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.
The new legislation would loosen data-protection restrictions for video surveillance on the streets and in places such as shopping malls, sports venues and car parks.
The cabinet also agreed on allowing federal police officers to wear bodycams, a step meant to increase security for officers after a rise in violence against them in recent months.
While the proposed laws will still give Germany’s states and city states the final say on whether to allow or ban CCTV cameras in public areas, they will “force data protection commissioners to give greater weight than before to ‘the protection of life, health, and freedom’ when deciding whether to permit video surveillance,” The Guardian reports.
In Berlin, there are 15,000 CCTV cameras installed on vehicles, with more than 3,000 capable of being switched to live transmission, but police cannot install cameras in public spaces that transmit live images due to data privacy regulations.
Bodo Pfalzgraf of the German police union told The Guardian that “better and more intelligence surveillance” is needed in public places, especially after Monday’s deadly attack. “We would know a lot more about the perpetrator by now if we had been allowed to install video cameras on Breitscheidplatz square,” he said. “We couldn’t have prevented the attack, but our investigation would be more advanced by now. CCTV can save lives.”
Critics of surveillance say this statement is merely hypothetical, and it’s more important to have additional police officers on the streets.