Terrorism Interview with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble 'We Could Be Struck at Anytime'
Part 2: 'The Internet Has Become the Central Medium for Islamists'
SPIEGEL: Sometimes you interpret constitutional law very flexibly when new surveillance powers are at issue, as shown for example by secret online investigations. The security authorities have used such investigations for years without any legal basis.
Schäuble: Hold on. There was one case where the method was applied domestically. I stopped the practice following the Constitutional Court's decision, by which the judges criticized the lack of a legal basis. I think the decision was legally correct, by the way. But that cannot mean that we can no longer access computers at all. What we need to do now is create a clean legal basis for it, and we are working on that. We want to handle this in a transparent, controlled and verifiable way. Whether or not a piece of information that the intelligence agencies co-read infringes on the core area of the private sphere is something a judge has to decide in each specific case -- after the data has been secured.
SPIEGEL: Previously, you said you wanted to introduce the draft law prior to parliament's summer recess, which has now begun. What happened to your proposal?
Schäuble: Well, I obviously was not able to do that.
SPIEGEL: And now? Will you dare to proceed alone and present the controversial draft to Merkel's cabinet, including the formulations calling for secret online investigations?
Schäuble: I am still pinning my hopes on dialogue. There have been encouraging signals. The parliamentary leader of the Social Democrat Party (SPD), Peter Struck, just publicly confirmed to me that he is entirely willing to talk about my proposals. That also concerns online investigations. What annoys me is the journalistic parlance. In it, secret investigations are all that is talked about ...
SPIEGEL: ... and they are precisely the issue. In the case of house searches, the code of criminal procedure stipulates that the person whose home is searched may be present. But when you search a computer by an online investigation, no one finds out.
Schäuble: When it comes to averting dangers, one sometimes needs to act without the knowledge of the people affected. When the matter has been dealt with or when it turns out there was no cause or that the problem has been solved, then people should and will be informed.
SPIEGEL: Those affected -- whose computer data was in some cases under observation from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, and the police for more than a year -- do not know to this day that the authorities possess the contents of their hard drive.
Schäuble: You know what upsets me? I did not make this decision -- and I even stopped the practice following the court's decision. I don't like it when those who were a little more generous on the issue ...
SPIEGEL: ... the Social Democrats, who carried out the online investigation under Otto Schily ...
Schäuble: ... accuse me of being someone who constantly wants to violate the constitution.
SPIEGEL: You create the impression of wanting to settle the question of guilt pre-emptively now, in case a bomb explodes.
Schäuble: No, but the Internet has become the central medium for Islamists, and whoever does not see this has not understood the signs of the times. The issue is pressing. I cannot wait until after the beginning of the next legislative period.
SPIEGEL: Biometric ID cards, video surveillance, flight passenger data, scent samples, Tornado jets above Heiligendamm: By acting in this martial manner, are you not fraudulently presenting citizens with an alleged security increase you in fact cannot guarantee?
Schäuble: But I am always the one who says there is no such thing as 100 percent security. As interior minister, I don't act as if we have everything under control either. Before the 2006 FIFA World Cup and before the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, I said there is no guarantee everything will remain calm. That is why I refuse to be characterized as someone who conveys a false impression of security by adopting an especially martial manner.
SPIEGEL: Can you understand that your advances cause many citizens to feel uneasy?
Schäuble: I know there are fears and that this also only meets with limited approval in opinion polls. It's a bit like with the population census. That is why I demand of political leadership that it takes these fears seriously but does not give in to them. We must try to convince people. I advertize it and explain it, and I do nothing secretly. I do it on clear bases in constitutional law.
SPIEGEL: A T-shirt featuring your face and the words "Stasi 2.0" is a sales hit on the Internet. Are you familiar with it?
Schäuble: Not until now. In that case, if I may put it ironically, at least the free market economy has asserted itself. But seriously: That is the result of frivolous public debates and frivolous reporting, and it annoys me. When I have discussions with 15- or 16-year-old students, then it does hurt me to see the results of these debates. These children, who have no inhibitions about circulating all their data on the Internet, now believe they are living in a state where they are under around-the-clock surveillance by the interior minister.
SPIEGEL: But it was you and your colleagues who contributed to this feeling by taking scent samples of G-8 critics and with low-flying Tornado jets above the protest camps at the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm.
Schäuble: Not the interior minister. On that issue, you must consult the Office of the Federal Prosecutor, the interior minister of (the eastern German state of) Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and the Defense Ministry.
SPIEGEL: We're talking about a widespread impression in the population
Schäuble: ... which is often shaped by incomplete information. You don't seriously want to claim that taking a scent sample of three suspects even remotely has anything to do with the practices of the Stasi (the secret police in the former East Germany)! When that is how this is reported on TV and in the press, and when politicians also talk that way, then 14-year-old secondary school students believe that is how it is.
SPIEGEL: Given your vehement call for a strong state, you ought to endorse the fact that the Munich public prosecutor's office has requested the arrest of the three alleged CIA agents who kidnapped Khalid al-Masri, the German citizen of Lebanese descent, in 2004. Why did you criticize the dogedness of the German judiciary in this case?
Schäuble: We are literally vitally dependent on cooperation with other intelligence agencies, especially the Americans. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to bear the responsibility for the security of this country as interior minister. On the other hand, intelligence agencies are also bound to observe the law. But the United States take the view that it is best for them to manage that themselves. We should respect that.
SPIEGEL: Minister Schäuble, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Stefan Aust, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark.
- Part 1: 'We Could Be Struck at Anytime'
- Part 2: 'The Internet Has Become the Central Medium for Islamists'