SurveillanceGermany: Revised Domestic Surveillance Bill Submitted to Bundestag

Published 18 May 2020

A draft law to reform Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency is to be re-submitted to parliament after long debate. It will allow German domestic intelligence and law enforcement to conduct electronic surveillance of telephone calls and SMS text services, including encrypted “chats” via services such as WhatsApp and Telegram, but will  not allow the use of cyber “Trojan” trawling tools.

Germany’s DPA news agency reported Friday that a revised bill on reform of Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency — to boost liaison with regional authorities and expand cyber tools — had reached its final leg ahead of parliamentary debate.

Excluded from the latest draft law would are secret “trojan” online searches that would trawl the computers of persons presumed to be extremists.

However, it is understood that electronic surveillance of telephone calls and SMS text services, including encrypted “chats” via services such as WhatsApp and Telegram would be allowed in designated cases.

Spying and privacy are sensitive issues in post-war Germany in the wake of Hitler’s Nazi regime, and latter Cold War that included elaborate spying in former Soviet-run East Germany. 

DPA said the Social Democrats (SPD) in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition cabinet had continued to resist interior ministry plans to include online “trojan” surveillance.

The revised bill, awaited since 2015, was being finalized Friday, it reported.

The opposition Greens, who have long called for overhaul of Germany’s diverse intelligence gathering said Friday that “structural problems” persisted.

Instead of “real” reform, said the Greens parliamentary group chairman Konstantin von Notz, the federal interior ministry wanted a “blatant unconstitutional widening of powers.”

The ministry headed by Horst Seehofer, a Bavarian ally of Merkel’s conservatives, had argued that allowing online “trojans” would only legalize “real life” practices.

We can only monitor and dismantle extremist groups and networks of traffickers if we monitor their communications,” said Mathias Middelberg, interior affairs spokesman for Merkel’s parliamentary conservatives.

Simple telephone surveillance was no longer sufficient, added Middelberg.

Germany, shaken in 2011 by disclosures that between 2000 and 2007 neo-Nazis had committed a series of racist murders led an inquiry committee in 2013 to urge parliament to make major overhauls of intelligence work.

Briefing parliamentarians last October, BfV head Thomas Haldenwang said his agency needed more resources to expand “analytical competence” and identify violence-prone perpetrators “especially in the digital realm!”