British universities are being asked to inform Special Branch of the suspicious behaviour of ‘Asian-looking and Muslim’ students. But a court in Germany has already ruled that profiling Arab students, in the name of countering terrorism, is incompatible with the German Constitution.
Post-September 11, Germany developed the most extensive systems of religious and racial profiling in Europe. There, public and private institutions were placed under a duty to hand over to police authorities information from databases on individuals whose personal profiles corresponded to specific criteria on the police’s search grid for potential terrorist sleepers. Universities were instructed to hand over personal data on overseas students suspected, not of any criminal offence but of ‘Islamic religious affiliation’.
However, in May 2006, in an important ruling, the Federal Constitutional Court held that the dragnet searches for terrorists which targeted Arabs in Germany after September 11 were unconstitutional, as a ‘general threat situation … cannot justify a dragnet search’. The verdict came after a Moroccan student, whose name has not been disclosed, brought a case after September 11 which highlighted the nationwide police search which targeted male students in Germany, aged 18 to 40, who were Muslim and from Arab countries. The ruling stated that police data trawling of certain types of people could ‘reinforce prejudices and stigmatise the affected social groups in the perception of the public’. It left room for exceptions, but under the strict condition that there was an ‘existence of further facts pointing to a concrete danger, such as the preparation or commission of terrorist attacks’.