Is Germany’s Spyware Law a Threat to Press Freedom? | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW


Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Whistleblower Network and a number of investigative journalists announced on Thursday that they had filed a series of urgent petitions in German courts to try to prevent intelligence agencies from using “horses”. of State Troy ”. “- spyware capable of reading encrypted messaging services – against people who are not directly suspicious.

Germany’s parliament passed a law in June granting state security forces broad powers to use spyware, as part of a reform of the law governing its many intelligence agencies: the Security Offices. Constitution, federal and state intelligence agencies. tasked with tracking down extremists in Germany, the Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) and the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), which focuses on foreign intelligence.

The reform, which came into effect in July, allows agencies to secretly install spyware, officially known as “Source Telecommunication Surveillance” (Source-TKÃœ), in smartphones and computers and to record messages and calls before the device can send the messages. on encrypted services like WhatsApp, Skype, Signal or Threema.

The new law also requires ISPs to offer technical support to agencies to help them install spyware.

“Attack” on journalism

Journalists fear that the use of spyware will allow them to protect the anonymity of their sources, and that they themselves could be monitored if they come into contact with a person under surveillance. RSF says its work is threatened by law because it can no longer protect the safety of investigative journalists and foreign political contacts.

“This law is an attack on the protection of sources in the digital space,” German president of RSF, Christian Mihr, said in a statement released Thursday. “What at first glance looks like a banality can have enormous consequences for journalists working on investigations.

“Once again, we are going to court against a law which experts have declared unconstitutional, but which was nevertheless passed in a hurry and without taking into account the consequences for journalism and freedom of the press in Germany”, he added.

According to RSF, which has been warning for several months against the dangers inherent in the reform, the spyware would allow agencies to view data and documents on any device, and theoretically even to modify and implant new documents. on these devices.

“What is taken for granted in analog life – that newsrooms cannot be searched and journalists cannot be forced to reveal their sources – must be fought again in digital life,” Mihr said.

The potential for abuse was a recurring issue during parliamentary reform committee hearings, in which law professors issued several warnings. In May, Benjamin Rusteberg of the University of Göttingen told the Bundestag that the new regulation “is unanimously considered unconstitutional by the experts”.

“This law is an attack on the protection of sources in the digital space,” said Christian Mihr, German head of RSF.

Government: Action needed to fight extremism

Introducing the law to parliament in May, the government argued that reform was necessary because courier services had become a ubiquitous form of communication, and “especially because of current events in the field of far-right terrorism. “.

He also said the reform has allowed for much greater cooperation between intelligence agencies, an issue that has hampered investigations in the past. The government has insisted that the new regulations do not extend the legal scope of telecommunications surveillance, but simply ensure “that perpetrators cannot escape investigation by choosing these forms of communication. “.

But critics say the government cannot guarantee that intelligence agents will not use the new spyware to go beyond their legal mandate. In an essay published in February on the digital news site, communications researchers Mario Martini and Sarah Fröhlingsdorf wrote that, by its nature, Source-TKÜ software is capable of covertly accessing all data. device, although intelligence officers are only authorized to monitor communications.

The lawsuits brought by RSF and others call for new regulations that will specifically ban the surveillance of journalists as a means of investigating suspects.

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