20 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 356,959 sq. km.
Head of state: Angela Merkel, since 2005
The German press, which is renowned for the rigour and independence of its media, reacted badly to new laws regulating the use of electronic data and telephone communications and the resulting threat to confidentiality of information. The scandal of phone tapping by one of the biggest telecommunications groups on a section of the press added to media misgivings about the possible consequences of the application of the new rules.
The German press in May 2008 discovered the scale of phone tapping carried out by Deutsche Telekom against journalists, union leaders and a section of its own board of directors between 2005 and 2006 as the company’s management tried to discover the source of several months of internal leaks of strategic information to the press, which created a crisis of confidence within its management.
The year 2008 was also marked by a ban on foreign television broadcasts from Germany. The interior ministry on 19 June 2008 banned Kurdish exiled ROJ TV from operating there. The television channel which has a Danish licence is suspected of links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The company Viko Fernseh Produktion which runs ROJ TV in Wuppertal was searched and forced to halt is activities. Lebanese television channel Al Manar was also banned from broadcasting on cable networks by the interior ministry, on 1st December 2008, because the content of some programmes on the channel, which is owned by Hezbollah, were judged to be anti-Semitic. It remains accessible by satellite, although it is banned from selling advertising or receiving donations.
The German Supreme Court, anxious to protect confidentiality and private life of users on 27 February 2008 put major obstacles in the way of verifying emails and the use of electronic data. This new “fundamental right to the guarantee of confidentiality and integrity of information systems” could however be challenged by a decision taken by the federal constitutional court on 6 November 2008 forcing telecommunications companies to transmit personal details and the location of users’ calls to the national security services. Operators have to keep data for a maximum of six months but investigators can only be allowed access to the data in the case of serious offences. A final court ruling is still being awaited.
The government and the parliament in January 2009 adopted an anti-terror law that extends the role and the rights of the federal justice ministry. The new law allows an “online search” and the examination of suspect computers. This however can only be carried out with a court warrant, in line with the constitutional court ruling, and granted only in case of serious offences.
Surveillance carried out in April 2008 against a Der Spiegel editor Susanna Koelbl led to questioning of the robustness of safeguards. The federal information and intelligence agency had for six months monitored email exchanges between the journalist and Afghan trade minister Amin Farhang in a unacceptable practice contrary to instructions just given by the federal government to its agents not to spy on journalists.