Privacy boss slams German police's mobile tapping

A probe into mobile phone-tapping by German police during a demonstration in February has led to condemnation, after data protection authorities labelled the widespread interception of mobile traffic “disproportionate” and “illegal”.

Saxon Data Protection Officer Andreas Schurig reached his damning conclusions in a report (PDF file in German) published on Friday into police surveillance tactics at an anti-Nazi protest that took place on 19th February in the German city of Dresden.

Police and law enforcement agencies intercepted all mobile traffic over a period of several hours, from densely populated residential districts of the city. Data is believed to have included confidential conversations conducted by members of the public, including MPs and journalists.

Interception of the mobile cells was considered by police to be a "standard investigative measure", but neither local prosecutors nor the police headquarters or the Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) had sought the advice of the Data Protection Commissioner for their action.

Police tracked mobile activity over nine hours in 14 locations across the city, while the LKA intercepted more than 900,000 communications over 12 hours, logging the names and addresses of mobile subscribers as part of a “structural investigation” against a criminal organisation.

Privacy advocates complained that the widespread surveillance amounted to an unwarranted intrusion into citizens privacy.

The Privacy Commissioner has called for the immediate deletion of substantial amounts of the data seized, and "even clearer rules" to be adopted to ensure there is no repeat of the intrusion.

German privacy chiefs last year delivered a sever reprimand to Google after the search giant's Street Cars were discovered to be collected unprotected wireless data traffic as they surveyed the country's streets for the company's Street View service - and forced the company into offering an opt-out for those who didn't want their homes to be featured on the street-level photo service. Legal wrangles caused Google to retire the service from Germany in April this year.