The German authorities have introduced a new method for intruding on encrypted messages through applications such as WhatsApp. This method is through a malware known as Staatstrojanern or state Trojans. This malware is sent to the target device that needs to be monitored. At first this method was legally used to monitor devices used to plot terrorism. Now, and with an amendment made to the law, authorities can use this method legally for less serious cases.
According to the authorities, with the spread of encrypted messaging applications, this made the traditional wiretapping useless and so a new alternative method was used to bypass these encryption by hacking directly into the communication device.
Critics form inside and outside of the government have argued that if the authorities have the ability to access the very personal information stored on the people’s devices, they will be looking at more than what they should. In other words, they won’t be using this just to spy on terrorists or criminals but to also spy on people’s personal lives which considered a major breach of privacy.
“State-sponsored hacking is much worse than a big malware attack, because nowadays the entire private life is stored on mobile devices, including photos, contacts, SMS, emails as well as location and movement data,” Jan Korte MP (Left Party) said as sited by Spiegel
In a statement for Handelsblatt Daily, Judge Ulf Buermeyer, head of the German Society for Civil Rights, said: “The one who surveils computers and smartphones can also activate microphones and data storage, allowing him to know nearly everything on the target person,”
The veteran Green politician Hans-Christian Strobele referred to these changes as “final attack on civil rights“. He also mentioned that this change would weaken the IT infrastructure as the government would be using the online security’s vulnerability to their benefit and weakening it even more in order to introduce the Trojan into the system.
In order to have this change pushed through on Thursday before the summer recess, the governing coalition of Angela Merkel’s conservatives in addition to Martin Schulz’s socialists used its majority.
The German government justified this by stating that it would help authorities greatly in tackling all security threats, no matter how big or small they are. They also added that they are aware that having applications that encrypt communications is for the sake of the users’ personal privacy; however criminals also misuse this advantage.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maizere said “We often see that criminals communicate using encrypted ways,” he also added “Encryption protects a right for private communication. But it is not a carte blanche for criminals.”
According to Duetsche Welle, the domestic policy expert of the CSU party; Michael Frieser said on Thursday in the Bundestag: “Encryption protects a right for private communication. But it is not a carte blanche for criminals.”
Other European countries that have applied such changes include the UK, due to last year’s Investigatory Powers Act, and Spain, due to an update in 2015 to the country’s criminal procedure law.