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IPI concerned at draft legal amendments that threaten protection of sources

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 1 October 2008 IPI press release:

IPI Concerned at Draft Legal Amendments that Threaten Protection of Sources in Germany

Vienna, 1 October 2008

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, is deeply concerned at a set of draft amendments to the German Criminal Code that threaten journalists' right to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.

"Passing the bill in its current form would be a further step along a dangerous path some European governments are taking at the moment, stripping journalists of their right to source protection in the name of counter-terrorism," said IPI Director David Dadge. "If these amendments are allowed to become law, German journalists will no longer be able to guarantee their sources the confidentiality they need, and many stories of public interest may never reach the public. We strongly urge those involved in reviewing this draft law to reconsider the provisions in question."

According to information before IPI, draft legislation called the "Law on the Defence against the Dangers of International Terrorism through the Federal Criminal Police" ("Gesetz zur Abwehr von Gefahren des internationalen Terrorismus durch das Bundeskriminalamt") is currently on its way through the German parliamentary process, and was recently approved by the committee on legal affairs ("Rechtsauschuss") at the German Bundestag. The draft contains provisions that would give the German Federal Criminal Police extended powers to perform surveillance on German citizens, including increased scope to conduct remote, covert searches of and gather information from private hard drives.

In addition, section 20 of the bill greatly reduces journalists' right to professional secrecy, a right usually provided automatically to journalists by section 53 of the German Code of Criminal Procedure. The new bill strips journalists of their automatic protection, leaving the Federal Criminal Police free to evaluate on a case by case basis whether or not this right should be respected. However, although media workers find themselves stripped of this right, priests, defence lawyers and parliamentarians retain this protection under section 53.

The new draft legislation follows recent amendments to Germany's telecommunications law, which also increased the authorities' capacity to conduct covert surveillance by making it obligatory for telecommunications providers to retain all customer communication data for a period of six months for possible use in criminal investigations. These amendments came into force at the beginning of 2008, and, in a manner similar to the draft legislation currently in the German Bundestag, established a tiered system of professional secrecy which left journalists with fewer rights than the clergy, defence lawyers and parliamentarians.

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

Press Release: "IPI Calls on German Parliamentarians to Rethink
Amendment to Telecommunications Surveillance Law" - 8 November 2007
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IPI World Press Freedom Review report on Germany
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