The German Version of Big Brother

Dennis Faas's picture

Ah, the modern wonders of 21st century technology.  We live in a world where illegal wiretapping is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violations of civil rights violations against U.S. citizens. Now, Germany reportedly wants to get involved in spying on citizens using tech, too.

German officials want to use Trojan horse software to secretly monitor potential terror suspects' computing habits. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is trying to include using Trojan horses as part of a broader security law being considered by the German government, alleging that judicial approval would be required before being used.

The Trojan would be delivered via email, appearing to come from other government offices such as the Finance Ministry or the Youth Services Office. If installed, it would allow authorities to investigate a suspects' Internet use and the data stored on their hard drives without any knowledge. Use of the government-produced technology for spying on terror suspects "will cover a serious and scandalous hole in our information that has arisen through technical changes in recent years," said Stefan Kaller, a spokesman for Schaeuble.

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups strongly oppose the plan, noting that it would weaken citizens' trust in government and that it would be an invasion of privacy.

Surprisingly, delivering Trojan horses by email may not actually be that effective. An expert with Germany's Association for Computer Technology points out that many suspects who have received the Trojan are technologically savvy enough to recognize and remove Trojans from their hard drives. So far the government hasn't released details of exactly how the software would operate.

In February, Germany's Federal Court of Justice rejected federal prosecutor arguments that the legal reasoning used to allow telephone surveillance and other eavesdropping techniques should be applied to evidence gathering over the Internet.

Recently, German troops and other workers in Afghanistan were targeted by Islamic radicals in suicide bombings and kidnappings in attempts to force the withdrawal of 3,000 troops deployed there. Kaller insists that "any delay can mean a security risk," and the heightened threat level makes the matter more urgent.

At what price to personal freedom does the cost become too much? The big brother question continues unanswered.

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