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PARLIAMENT DEFEATS ANTI-TERRORISM LAW

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European body of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), welcomed last week's defeat in the upper house of Germany's Parliament of an anti-terrorism law that would have given the federal police unprecedented spying powers.

Several federal states abstained from voting on the anti-terrorism law, which led to its defeat.

The law would have granted the Federal Criminal Investigation Office (BKA), Germany's equivalent of the U.S.'s FBI, the powers to force journalists to reveal their research materials and sources by greatly reducing their right to professional secrecy. According to the International Press Institute (IPI) and news reports, it would have also given the BKA the capacity to tap conversations and spy on computers, such as carrying out remote, covert searches of private hard drives.

Critics said the new powers would have turned the BKA into a "super-police" with sweeping authority.

"This is a very important victory for press freedom in Germany and in Europe," said EFJ. "Our German affiliates, also in cooperation with all major media organisations, have continuously criticised the draft law on anti-terrorism, which had foreseen extended authority for BKA for the defence of serious crimes."

The measure had passed easily in the lower house on 12 November, with the strong backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government, which pairs conservative Christian Democrats with the centre-left Social Democrats.

Protests against the measure have been led by groups representing the interests of journalists, doctors and lawyers, who worried the measure would infringe upon the privacy rights of sources, patients and clients.

A recent survey by Privacy International found that anti-terrorism laws in Europe have already seriously affected freedom of expression while providing little benefit to fighting terrorism - and that governments seem to be using these laws for their own political purposes.

The report, "Speaking of Terror: A survey of the effects of counter-terrorism legislation on freedom of the media in Europe", is available at: http://tinyurl.com/65zlba

Also visit these links:
- EFJ/IFJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98956/
- IPI: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/97415
- AP: http://tinyurl.com/6s3mpj
- Deutsche Welle: http://tinyurl.com/5efhso
- Spiegel Online: http://tinyurl.com/6bak4x
(3 December 2008)

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