State and federal interior ministers, who met in Dresden on Wednesday, said that the current minimum age for taking the fingerprints of a child would be lowered from 14 to six. The move was justified as a means of preventing asylum seekers from applying twice for protection.
But the change was harshly criticized by legal experts.
“We don’t have a security problem among children,” said Sven Rebehn, chairman of the German Association of Judges.
“We need to be careful not to go too far and end up eroding the rule of law.”
Another new measure agreed upon by the interior minister conference that drew attention was the decision to allow police to spy upon messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.
The interior ministers agreed that police will in the future have the power to hack into messaging systems when they are investigating particularly serious crimes.
“What the government is currently planning in terms of evaluating Whatsapp messages strains the high standards of our constitution,” said Green party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt.
Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) said he hoped to introduce the changes into the legal code before the end of this parliament. Germany goes to the polls in national elections in September.
But a proposal at the conference by Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann went too far even for his colleagues.
Herrmann suggested that Germany’s spy agencies should be able to monitor minors in the future.
“It would only be possible in extremely exceptional cases,” said the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) politician, pointing out several cases in which minors had been brainwashed into carrying out violence, or had radicalized themselves in recent years.
But Roger Lewentz, the Social Democrat interior minister in Rhineland-Palatinate, described the Bavarian proposal as “unthinkable.”
“That we would send the intelligence agencies to spy on juveniles – that isn't going to happen,” Lewentz said.
Frank Tempel, deputy head of Die Linke (the Left Party) said that the interior ministers were too ready to create more stringent laws.
“Prevention plays an important role in fighting property theft and violent crime. But it is still only repression. It does nothing to deal with the causes of the crimes,” he said.