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Proposed amendment to telecommunications law threatens journalists' ability to protect sources' confidentiality

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an 8 November 2007 IPI press release:

Vienna, 8 November 2007

IPI Calls on German Parliamentarians to Rethink Amendment to Telecommunications Surveillance Law

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, expresses deep concern over a proposed amendment to Germany's telecommunications law that contains serious threats to press freedom.

According to information before IPI, the German Bundestag on 9 November will discuss a bill, introduced by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, requiring telecommunications providers to retain all customer communication data for a period of six months. If approved, starting on 1 January 2008, law enforcement bodies could gain access to these stored communications, which cover telephone calls, text messages, e-mails or faxes, in the course of their criminal investigations.

The proposed amendment creates different classes of protection, with defence attorneys, parliamentarians and members of the clergy beyond scrutiny in the first class. By contrast, journalists would be treated as less worthy of protection, with investigating magistrates having the right to require journalists to divulge their communications if doing so is in the interests of the prosecution.

"Diluting journalists' fundamental right to keep their sources confidential by treating them as second-class professionals with a lesser right to confidentiality constitutes a direct attack on their ability to properly practice their profession," commented IPI Director Johann P. Fritz.

"Sources are less likely to share controversial information if journalists are unable to shield them. The fight against terrorism cannot serve as a blanket justification for legislation with possibly dire consequences for investigative journalism and press freedom in general."

Fritz added, "Germany has already faced problems regarding police interference with the media. In September 2005, security services raided the editorial offices of the Potsdam-based Cicero magazine, prompting Germany's Federal Constitutional Court to issue a judgement in February of this year, declaring that searches and the confiscation of evidence are illegal if aimed 'exclusively' or 'predominantly' at identifying the source of the media's information, and not at actually pursuing a criminal case. The current amendment threatens to undermine this decision, and offers the police additional opportunities to spy on the media."

"It takes a leap of faith to trust that courts and law enforcement agencies will exercise proper restraint in deciding when to request and grant access to information. Moreover, information wrongfully acquired can potentially be abused at two different levels: law enforcement may rely directly on it, or use it as a basis for further research. The latter can be so difficult to detect that it becomes virtually impossible to hold transgressors accountable."

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