The German government Wednesday agreed to allow secret services to listen in on conversations via encrypted messaging services such as Messenger or Whatsapp as a means of tackling terrorism.
Cabinet adopted a bill to that effect, drawn up after a series of far right attacks in the country, and the proposed legislation now goes forward for parliamentary assent.
The proposed legislation would allow intelligence services including military counterintelligence in future to monitor not just current conversations on messenger platforms but also encrypted messages already sent through use of “spy software”.
“I cannot accept our security authorities have to lag behind the enemies of our democracy because of a lack of powers,” said conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who dubbed the legislation “an overdue step in the fight against terrorists and militant extremists”.
He added that intelligence services had to be given the means to deal with such threats in a digital age which “can see and hear.”
Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, a Social Democrat, agreed that they had to be placed on an equal technological footing “with those they are pursuing”, stressing the aim was to prevent crime rather than not to chase after civilians.
The government has also stipulated that the legislation will only be able to come on stream with the agreement of a special parliamentary commission which performs judicial oversight on interception of communications by federal intelligence agencies.
The legislation has been pieced together with Germany having been subjected to a number of terror attacks in recent years notably by rightwing extremists who published their hate-filled motives over the internet.
Some opposition groups have expressed concern that the legislation is too draconian with one Green lawmaker, Konstantin von Notz, saying it represents an attack on civilian rights.
The German branch of Reporters without Borders tweeted concern that journalists could also end up coming under pressure to reveal their sources.
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