‘Error 404’: Germans protest new ‘surveillance’ law approved by parliament (VIDEO)

Germany’s parliament has voted in favor of a controversial surveillance law that would oblige telecom companies to store their customers’ data for up to 10 weeks. Widely opposed by Germans, the law was protested by hundreds of activists during the vote.

The legislation was approved with 404 out of 552 lawmakers voting in favor of it.

The law means that now both national and foreign telecom companies in Germany will have to save information about the duration of telephone calls and customers’ phone numbers and IP addresses for 10 weeks. Additionally, location data from mobile phones will be kept for four weeks. The contents of Germans’ email communications will not be saved.

However, text messages do fall within the boundaries of the law. Local telecom companies will be required to retain the content of short messages for up to 10 weeks if phone number information cannot be separated from the text of the message itself, Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Although the law does not officially allow spying on German citizens, there are concerns that it does have the potential to be abused, the daily newspaper warned.

On Friday, people protested outside the Bundestag building (parliament) in Berlin as the lawmakers passed the “surveillance law”.

Protesters were carrying banners and placards that read “No to user data storage!”“My data belong to me!”“One day everything will be suspicious.” and “Against glassy [transparent] citizens!”“Against surveillance!” while some in some placards Angela Merkel was called “surveillance chancellor.”

Two demonstrators wearing big masks depicting Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of Social Democratic Party were carrying a banner that read “a heart for surveillance.”

They also brought a giant telescope with ‘user data storage’ inscribed on it and pointed it at the Bundestag building.

The activists, supported by the liberal Free Democratic Party also launched campaigns against the law on social media using the hash tags ‘#noVDS’ (no user data storage), #gegendasMisstrauen (against suspicion, against distrust) and #IchBinKeinTerrorist’ (I am no terrorist).

Some Germans have compared the new law with the extreme surveillance activities in communist East Germany in the 1950s.

Others spoke ironically of the situation using a reference to the commonly seen "Error 404" page shown by browsers when they can't find a webpage. 

The law was passed after a heated debate within the German ruling coalition which has lasted for months. The issue almost led to a conflict between Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their coalition partner – the Social Democrats.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed the measures envisaged by the law would be necessary to find and track terrorist activities in the country, and the stored data would be accessed only by police and with a prior court authorization, Deutsche Welle reports.

Justice Minister, Heiko Maas, from the Social Democratic Party resisted the introduction of the data retention bill for months but eventually changed his mind and called the new law a balanced compromise and an “additional tool" in the hands of police that could help them fight serious crimes.

"It is proportionate because less data will be stored, we will save data for a much shorter period and because access to the data has been made significantly harder," he said, as quoted by Reuters.

Many digital rights activists have protested against the law which they have called mass ungrounded surveillance over the German citizens.

Opposition parties also criticized the law and repeatedly claimed it would violate human rights and put ordinary citizens under general suspicion.

German opposition Left Party lawmaker Halina Wawzyniak told lawmakers on Friday that the data retention bill would be "a disproportionate infringement of the law," Deutsche Welle reports.

Some opponents of the new law are determined to go even further and file a constitutional complaint to the Germany’s highest court. Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party, told Germany’s Die Welt that he was going to bring it before the Constitutional Court in order to make the judges verify the law’s constitutionality as well as its congruence with the EU regulations.

Kubicki referred to a 2014 ruling of the European Court of Justice that prohibited user data storage as it violated the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Some opponents of the law regard the ruling as a ban on any personal data retention in the EU, Der Spiegel reports.

"Because the government is ignoring this [ruling], litigation is necessary,” said Kubicki, as quoted by DPA.

In 2007, the German government already tried to introduce a similar law that envisaged data retention for six to seven months but, in 2010, it was overturned by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that the law violated the norms concerning data and information confidentiality.

Now some opponents of the new law believe it will share the fate of its 2007 predecessor.