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Wilfried Karl president of ZITiS, gives a statement to the media during a visit of the new Centre for Information Technology of Security Authorities (ZITiS) in Munich, Germany September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany spy agencies should have the authority to digitally strike back against cybercriminals, the president of Germany's new cyber security agency Zitis told Der Spiegel newsmagazine.

"As a citizen I expect that our government remains able to act even in the face of new digital threats," the magazine on Wednesday quoted Wilfried Karl as saying in an interview.

Zitis was set up earlier this year to help develop information technology (IT) tools to fight cybercrime and track the communications of potential terrorists.

Karl made his comments a month after top German intelligence officials urged lawmakers to give them greater legal authority to "hack back" in the event of cyber attacks from foreign powers.

German officials have blamed APT28, a Russian hacker group said linked to Moscow, for the May 2015 hack of the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, and other cyber attacks aimed at political groups, individuals or institutions.

"Wouldn't it be desirable to at least destroy data and documents on the thieves' servers?" the Zitis chief said.

But he said he believed a new proposed U.S. bill that could make it legal for companies to retaliate against hackers went too far.

"Those kinds of offensive measures should be reserved for government agencies," he said.

Karl's comments follow the collapse on Sunday of talks to form a new coalition government, a development that has thrown Germany into political uncertainty and raised the prospect of new elections.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Andrea Shalal, Editing by William Maclean)

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