Trawling databases to profile potential terror suspects is illegal except in specific cases of ``concrete danger,'' Germany's highest court ruled Tuesday in handing a victory for a Moroccan student.
The student, whose name has not been made public, sued a German state after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to stop it from mining university and government databases to identify Muslim students between the ages of 18 and 40.
A top regional official said the decision by the Federal Constitutional Court would have little effect on security. The court said that the program had not identified any terrorist ``sleepers.''
The court ruled that random data trawling was legal only in the event of a specific danger, rather than a broad, elevated threat.
``A general threat situation of the kind that has existed in regard to terrorist attacks continuously since Sept. 11, 2001, or foreign policy tensions, are not sufficient to order data profiling,'' it said in its ruling.
Coordinated profiling for potential suspects was introduced by states across Germany after Sept. 11, when it emerged that three of the suicide pilots who flew planes into U.S. targets had lived and studied undetected in Hamburg.
Authorities scanned for ethnicity, religious background and other information in records that would normally be off-limits under privacy laws.
Ingo Wolf, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the state sued by the plaintiff, said the new limit would not harm anti-terrorism efforts.
The experience shows that ``terrorists cannot be caught through data profiling,'' Wolf said.
``There are better-suited methods to head off effectively and legally the dangers that arise from Islamic terrorism,'' he said. [Link]
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