This June, German lawmakers approved legislation that would hand security forces the power to use spyware. The security agencies in question are the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD), the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution, and other federal and state intelligence agencies tasked with tracking down extremists in the country.
As part of the new reform, these entities will have the ability to secretly install the spyware known as “Source Telecommunication Service” or Source-TKU) to computers and smartphones.
This spyware can record messages and calls before the device sends them out through encrypted services like WhatsApp, Skype, and others.
The new law was first put to use in July with the help of internet providers who provide technical
support to the government agencies on installing the spyware.
Journalists believe that the new reforms are an “attack” on their profession and prevents them from protecting the anonymity of their sources while also putting them at risk if they ever make contact with someone who is under surveillance.
As a result, several investigative reporters, along with organizations such as the Whistleblower Network and Reporter Without Borders (RSF), have filed a series of notions in courts throughout Germany in an attempt to block the intelligence agencies from using “state trojan horses” against people who aren’t under immediate suspicion.
“Once again, we are going to court against a law that experts declared unconstitutional, but which was nevertheless passed overhastily and without regard for the consequences for journalism and press freedom in Germany,” said Christian Mihr, head of Germany’s RSF.
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This isn’t the only controversial law that the German parliament approved recently. In 2016, they gave the green light to a law that allowed the BND – Germany’s foreign intelligence agency to access all communications among foreign individuals and entities in Germany or abroad that pass through an internet exchange point in Frankfurt.
For a country with a history of heavy government interception, these new laws have been a cause for concern for many media members and the public.
The government at the time justified the move by saying that it was a necessary measure to prevent possible militant attacks in Germany or Europe.
Five years later, the government’s stance remains the same. They consider the new laws as an appropriate measure to prevent the increasing prevalence of far-right terrorism by intercepting what has become a standard form of communication.
German lawmakers insist that the new regulations do not expand the legal scope of the surveillance agencies but simply prevents criminals from getting away by “choosing these forms of communication.”
Additionally, they have seen much more cooperation between the intelligence agencies since the new laws were implemented, which should help them carry out more efficient investigations in the future.
However, one major concern remains that there Is no guarantee that government agencies won’t use the spyware (which is capable of seeing all data on the device and not just communication) beyond their legal limit.