Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere plans to argue “the legal duty for third parties to allow for secret surveillance” during an interior ministry conference in Leipzig next week. The 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.
According to media, 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 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,” Konstantin von Notz, deputy faction leader of the Green Party, told 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.
Bundestag member and Secretary General of the Bavarian State Association of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Uli Grötsch, said that Germans should be wary of more surveillance in the name of security. “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.