Interior Minister Otto Schily also announced plans to boost the fight against terrorism by pooling intelligence from the three national security agencies in a new joint analysis center.
The moves, announced after two days of talks between Schily and interior ministers from the 16 states or ‘Laender’, are designed to strengthen Germany’s defenses against terrorism by making its complex security structure work more efficiently.
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Germany has stepped up its guard against radical Islamists since 2001, when three of the suicide hijackers involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States turned out to be Arab students from Hamburg.
Authorities are investigating about 150 cases involving alleged Islamic militants, and have conducted several prominent trials.
But a Muslim leader, reacting to news of the database, said innocent Muslims risked falling under suspicion unless the term ‘Islamist’ was properly defined.
“When you speak about Islamism, you have to clarify what you mean by it. We are concerned that every Muslim could fall under this catch-all term, which is unacceptable,” said Nadeem Elyas, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.
“We’re worried that people may be caught up arbitrarily who have nothing to do with terrorism. By arbitrarily, I mean at the discretion of officials or authorities, which would be a violation of data protection rules.”
A spokesman for the federal data protection commissioner said it was important to establish clear rules on who could enter or view data on suspects, and how long entries would be held in the system.
Because of its historic experience of Nazi and Communist dictatorship, Germany has strict rules on data protection and on separating the functions of the police and the intelligence services.
With its federal structure, it also has more than 30 bodies responsible for security — a federal crime office and two spy agencies, plus police and domestic intelligence services in every state.
To avoid duplication and the risk of vital information falling between the cracks, Schily last month proposed bringing the state services under the direct control of their federal equivalents. But the idea has been vigorously resisted by interior ministers in the 16 Laender.
The national police union said it was baffling to ordinary Germans why such questions were still being ponderously thrashed out nearly three years after Sept. 11. “One can only hope that international terrorism will show due consideration for German thoroughness,” it said in a statement.