Thursday, April 14, 2005

If You Don’t Like the Patriot Act, You’ll Love This

The following (translated) from a German AP report of 12 April:
The [German] police may keep suspected criminals under surveillance using the GPS navigation system. On Tuesday, the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled that the use of the satellite-based Global Positioning System does not violate the Basic Law [i.e. the German constitution]....Like other forms of surveillance with technical means [in Germany], GPS surveillance can be ordered by a district attorney. A court order has only to be obtained a month later.
The other forms of “surveillance with technical means” referred to in the article include, for instance, wiretaps. Note that even the seemingly most controversial measure included in the US Patriot Act – namely, the authorization of “roving” wiretaps – requires a court order. I was inclined to write “needless to say” in the previous sentence. Though as the AP story reveals and as those who followed the controversy over the so-called “Great Bugging Operation” [Großer Lauschangriff] in Germany some years ago will already know, in the German context such does not go without saying. It is also worth noting that the particular case that brought the issue before the Constitutional Court involved a member of a far-left terrorist organization, the “Anti-Imperialist Cells”: i.e. not a common criminal, but precisely the sort of purveyor of organized and politically-motivated violence with which the Patriot Act was designed to deal. Although it is not immediately relevant to the case, it is of some symptomatic interest that the individual in question – Bernard Uzen (formerly Bernard Falk) – has in the meanwhile converted to Islam. An article from the Spiegel on the Constitutional Court decision notes, furthermore, that “since the federal government does not collect data on the matter, no reliable data on the frequency of GPS surveillance is available”. It also mentions that police may undertake surveillance on their own authority for up to two days without even obtaining an order from a district attorney, let alone a judge.

Back in February Ray D. on Medienkritik wrote about what he called “Transatlantic Double Standards for Dealing With Extremists”. “If Americans were more widely informed about the situation in Germany,” Ray remarked, “they would be outraged at the hypocrisy of the German left’s criticism of the Patriot Act.” And when Ray speaks of the “German left” one should not imagine that he has in mind just the ravings of the post-communist PDS and kindred far-left (or, for that matter, "far-right", since they are by now essentially indistinguishable) groupings.

It is the establishment “red-green” Left that has led the charge in Germany in fomenting the phantasm of post-9/11 America as a “society under surveillance” [Überwachungsgesellschaft]. Thus with his characteristic flair for hysterical exaggeration, Michael Naumann of the Die Zeit wrote in February 2003 that “The USA is being screened as if George Orwell wrote the laws”. Die Zeit liked the Orwell allusion so much that it used it again in an article on the US from September of last year titled “On the Trail of Big Brother”. Another article from Die Zeit from August 2003 featured the sub-title “Surveillance and Paranoia Mark Every Day Life in New York”. On the two year anniversary of 9/11, a Die Zeit sub-title blared: “George Bush and his Republicans menace in their own country the basic democratic rights that they want to introduce in Iraq”.

Michael Naumann is (with Josef Joffe and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt) a co-publisher of Die Zeit. He is also a former member of Gerhard Schröder’s “red-green” coalition government. As such, he could be expected to know something about the meager protection of civil liberties in German law. This makes his hyper-ventilating about comparatively minor changes in American law, wherein civil liberties continue, nonetheless, to enjoy far greater protection, all the more puzzling.