Following two terrorist attacks in the country, Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced that he wants to introduce facial recognition software at train stations and airports throughout the country.
Germany has been in a state of paranoia after two recent “acts of terror.” In one of the attacks, a teenage refugee from Pakistan attacked passengers on a train in Wurzburg with an axe. No less than a week later, a bomb was detonated at a music festival in Ansbach that resulted in 20 injuries.
Although it turned out to be nothing more than an error, a bomb threat at the Thier Galerie shopping mall in Dortmund was what initially sparked this heightened terrorism paranoia, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The police arrived at the scene and attempted to examine the camera recordings, only to find useless video footage. The mall’s operator had previously attempted to heighten video surveillance at the mall, but the request was vetoed by authorities who feared that it would be an invasion of patrons’ privacy.
“You can’t just say you want to have more cameras,” said Heike Marzen, the mall’s manager. “There are certain laws we have to follow.”
De Maiziere is aiming to change those laws. His proposal, introduced on August 11th, was part of an effort to boost security after said recent attacks. The proposal was introduced to make it easier to deport foreigners deemed dangerous, as well as, revoking German citizenship from people who fought for extremist groups. In addition, he announced that he would like Germany to start scanning social media and strengthen German authorities’ ability to probe the darknet.
In reference to the bomb hoax at the Thier Galerie, he told the newspaper that the issue “could have been cleared up with video recordings if they hadn’t been forbidden by privacy champions.”
More information became available after De Maiziere spoke with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper regarding the proposal.
“I would like to use this kind of facial recognition technology in video cameras at airports and train stations,” he told the paper. “Then, if a suspect appears and is recognized, it will show up in the system.”
A similar type of software is already being used in scanning unattended luggage that shows up on video surveillance after a predetermined amount of time.
At least 20 rail stations would be included in this increased “cutting-edge” video surveillance and facial scanning, the proposal states.
Opponents of the plan claim the proposed changes would be in violation of Germany’s constitution and years of legal rulings that have solidly established privacy among Germans’ most heavily guarded rights.
On a recent trip to America, Helga Block, the privacy commissioner for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, noted that the cameras positioned everywhere in the US made her feel as if she was being constantly watched. “In America the laws are much more generous than here in Germany. It just feels like you’re being watched. And you don’t know who is on the other side,” she added.
According to Reuters, Germany has been falling behind in the government surveillance department “due to abuses by the Stasi secret police in East Germany and the Gestapo under the Nazis.”
Not only do many citizens believe this increased surveillance would be an illegal invasion of privacy, but some government officials feel similarly. Christopher Lauer, a Berlin state lawmaker with the libertarian Pirate Party is fighting plans to add cameras to a major transport hub and crime hot spot in the center of the capital in Berlin.
“I don’t want a state that has a complete surveillance system,” he said. “If there are ever darker times in Germany, then the state could just use this against the people.”
Germany is not the only country ramping up security in ways that are causing controversy. For instance, France is currently in a state of emergency for similar reasons.
One of the most notable examples, is Australia’s significant advancement in terms of law enforcement’s ability to fight and investigate crime. The notorious take-down of the deepweb child pornography site by Australia’s Taskforce Argos is a prime demonstration of law enforcement adapting to the digital age. In addition, Australia’s Prime Minister is allowing police to start using FBI-like facial recognition software, and an entire cybercrime unit is being created to take advantage of such modernized technology.
While the push against De Maiziere’s proposal is strong, he believes it will be for the greater good: “We will have to get used to increased security measures, such as longer queues, stricter checks, or personal entry cards. This is tedious, uncomfortable, and costs time, but I don’t think it’s a limitation of personal freedom,” he added.