Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, is calling for a vast expansion of the government’s surveillance capabilities through backdoor access to virtually all electronic devices, including automobiles, computers, and smartphones. Thomas de Maizière has created a proposal he plans to discuss at an upcoming conference in Leipzig which would create “the legal duty for third parties to allow for secret surveillance.”
“The Home Secretary’s plans read like an Orwellian nightmare, and soon all the homes in the Federal Republic will be equipped with potential bugs, and the physical hurdle of a big eavesdrop will fall. We need to think hard about whether, with two dictatorships in recent history, we want to live in a country where there is no private retreat and the state can do whatever is technically possible,” Deputy Leader of the German Green Party, Konstantin von Notz told Der Spiegel. Many tech companies and politicians in Germany oppose the Federal Minister of the Interior’s surveillance proposal.
The Federal Minister of the Interior pointed to newer automobiles which can alert their owner if the car is being broken into, and believes that the government should be able to disable such alerts to allow secret searches of vehicles. Thomas de Maizière’s proposal also calls for backdoor access to all devices which have the ability to connect to the internet. A judge would need to sign off on any surveillance conducted under the proposed legislation. Thomas de Maizière’s proposal would enable the government to covertly disable the security features of virtually all electronic devices.
The Federal Minister of the Interior told Der Spiegel that he wants to see tech companies become legally obligated to assist and cooperate with the government in creating backdoors and allowing the government to gain access to electronic devices. Such attempts to force tech companies to assist law enforcement agencies is not unique to Germany, as the United States Department of Justice and the FBI had tried, unsuccessfully, to coerce Apple into unlocking the iPhones of suspected terrorists and criminals. In February of last year, the FBI tried to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone that belonged to the San Bernadino terrorist shooter. Then in October of last year, the FBI again tried to compel to unlock another iPhone, this time they wanted access to the iPhone of a man who stabbed 10 people at a mall in Minnesota. Apple challenged the court orders which would have forced them to unlock the iPhones, and ultimately the FBI dropped their demands, as they were able to gain access to the iPhones with the help of an Israeli company called Cellebrite.
Privacy activists, digital rights activists, politicians, and people in the tech industry have strongly condemned the new proposal from Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior. The Bavarian Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Uli Grötsch, told Der Spiegel that increasing the surveillance state would not guarantee more security for people in Germany. Marc Fliehe, of the Association of Technical Inspection Associations, noted that while creating backdoor access for the government may further law enforcement efforts to prosecute criminals, it would also enable hackers to gain access to a user’s electronic device. The Managing Director of Bitkom, Bernhard Rohleder, told Der Spiegel that allowing the proposed regulations to become law would allow the government to access everything and everyone.
The new proposal from the Federal Minister of the Interior also calls for allowing the government to be able to shut down websites and servers. The new proposal would also create severe penalties for online service providers who do not cooperate and assist the government in creating backdoor access or in shutting down web sites and online services. The Federal Minister of the Interior claims these powers will be used to shut down botnets, but in fact this would also give the government another tool to crush free speech and free expression on the internet.