Germany's Interior Ministry is challenging the NSA for the title of world's most Orwellian intelligence agency.
According to Russia Today, Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, wants to create secret backdoor access to computers, phones and even Volkswagens - a plan that critics are slamming as an "Orwellian nightmare". Maiziere plans to argue in favor of what he's calling “the legal duty for third parties to allow for secret surveillance” during an interior ministry conference in Leipzig next week. De Maizière's proposal would “dramatically extend” the state’s powers to spy on its citizens, according to the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) report.
If signed into law, de Maiziere’s proposal would allow German security services to spy on any device connected to the internet. Tech companies would be compelled to provide the state with backdoor access to most digital consumer devices, including private tablets, computers and even televisions and cars. However, German authorities would need the authorization of a judge before tapping into a compromised consumer device.
Maiziere's request, as many of our American readers no doubt remember, is reminiscient of the FBI's push back in early 2016 to convince a federal judge to compell Apple Inc. to create software that would allow the bureau to break into iPhones for law-enforcement purposes. The case was spurred by the deadly Dec. 14, 2015 shooting at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center. The attackers, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple living in the city of Redlands, targeted a Public Health training event and Christmas party of about 80 employees being held at the building, where Syed worked.
According to local media reports, the German interior minister feels such legislation is necessary because the rise of encryption and other security systems has hindered digital intelligence gathering and surveillance - the same argument used by the FBI in its case against Apple. Unsurprisingly, Maizière's plan to expand state snooping powers has raised eyebrows in a country that within living memory has suffered under some of the most ruthless, all-pervasive surveillance in history – from both the Nazi Gestapo and the East German Stasi.
“The Interior Minister’s plans sound like an Orwellian nightmare. Soon all flats in Germany will be equipped with devices which are potential wiretaps,” said Konstantin von Notz, deputy faction leader of the Green Party, during an interview with Der Spiegel.
“We need to think really hard about the fact that we are a country with two dictatorships in its recent history. Do we want to live in a land where there is no privacy and where the state can interfere wherever it is technologically possible?” he asked.
Members of the Bundestag and Secretary General of the Bavarian State Association of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Uli Grötsch, said that Germans should be wary of calls for expansion of the state's snooping capabilities, which government bureaucrats often justify by saying the tradeoff to improve national security would be more than worth it.
“More intervention and monitoring does not automatically mean more security,” he said, as cited by Der Spiegel.
Despite opposition to the proposed backdoor, Germany already boasts comprehensive, and sometimes undisclosed, surveillance powers.
The US National Security Agency not only spies on German citizens, but also houses the agency’s key European data centers, Der Spiegel revealed in 2014. More recently, in February of this year, the magazine reported that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) had spied on western news media outlets and international news agencies for years.
Even encrypted German data isn’t safe: In June, Germany passed a controversial law that expands the state’s ability to monitor encrypted material sent via message services such as WhatsApp and Skype.
De Meziere's plan is hardly the only turn towards totalitarianism undertaken by the German state in recent months. Back in October, we reported on a new German law introducing state censorship on social media platforms, which had just taken effect. The new law requires social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to censor their users on behalf of the German state. In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May has also called for an increase in internet monitoring and censorship across Europea to help stem a wave of terror attacks that, ironically, were largely enabled by developed countries' liberal policies toward migrants fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan or Syria.