Google, Facebook And Chaos Computer Club Join To Fight New German Law Allowing Government Spies And Police To Use Trojans Against Innocent Citizens

from the strange-bedfellows dept

One of the curious aspects of Germany’s surveillance activities is the routine use of so-called “state trojans” — software that is placed surreptitiously on a suspect’s system by the authorities to allow it to be monitored and controlled in real time over the Internet. The big advantage of this approach is that it lets intelligence agencies get around end-to-end encryption without needing backdoors in the code. Instead, the trojan sits at one end of the conversation, outside the encryption, which lets it eavesdrop without any problem. This approach goes back at least a decade, and now seems to be an accepted technique in the country, which is rather surprising given Germany’s unhappy history of state surveillance and control during the previous century. The German government likes state trojans so much it wants to give the option to even more of its services, as Netzpolitik explains (original in German, translation by DeepL):

At the end of each grand coalition’s legislative period, there was always a small fireworks display of further surveillance measures. Unfortunately, you can always bet on that, and this thesis is confirmed this time as well.

The bill to amend the law on the protection of the [German] constitution is about to be passed by the grand coalition [of the CDU/CSU and SPD parties]. This will give all German intelligence services hacking powers and allow them to use state trojans in the future. At the same time, the Federal Police Act will also be passed, which will not only allow the authorities to use state trojans, but will also give them the power to hack people who have not committed a crime or are suspected of having done so.

The new law would require Internet service providers to cooperate actively in installing trojans on their customers’ devices. Such an obligation would radically change and undermine the relationship between Internet suppliers and their customers. It’s such a bad idea that it has managed to bring together the most unlikely bedfellows — including Google, Facebook and the archetypal hacker group Chaos Computer Club. In a joint letter to the German government (original in German, translation by DeepL), they call for:

Not taking any further legal measures that would weaken or break encryption.

In particular, to waive the obligation for companies to cooperate in the reform of the Federal Law on the Protection of the Constitution, which would make companies the extended arm of the intelligence services and significantly jeopardize cybersecurity.

Not to rush the adaptation of the constitutional protection law with the duty to cooperate through the parliamentary procedure, but to involve the business community and civil society. This requires a dialog with citizens, civil society and industry.

In addition, we call on the federal government and the [national parliament] to strengthen encryption to protect private and professional communications in the medium and long term

It’s good to see such a united front against this terrible idea. But the German government’s love of state trojans is probably too ingrained now for an open letter to have much effect.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Comments on “Google, Facebook And Chaos Computer Club Join To Fight New German Law Allowing Government Spies And Police To Use Trojans Against Innocent Citizens”

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21 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Khym Chanur (profile) says:

also give them the power to hack people who have not committed a crime or are suspected of having done so.

I really want to know what the stated rationale for this is. The rationales I can guess at involve the the (suspected) criminal having good enough computer security practices to avoid getting infected by the trojan:

  • The criminal is engaged in online communications with their victims (e.g., some sort of scam) and the authorities somehow know who the victims are despite not being able to hack the criminal’s devices. This would allow the authorities to collect evidence without having to turn the victims into informants.
  • Install the trojan on the devices of non-criminal associates of the suspect in order to capture communication from the suspect. For instance, if they know that the suspect is going to be at their niece’s birthday party at 2 PM on Tuesday, that’s the perfect time for them to execute a search warrant on their home.

There’s other reasons I can think of for why a govt would want to do this, but none that they’d want to admit to.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anon says:

How?

Isn’t this precisely the sort of thing that AV software is supposed to note and disarm?

Do they have tricks that bypass anti-virus detection? By now, presumably, these tricks are also known to non-state actors. Plus, if AV software makers are not keeping up on this – well, they have one job… just one job – to detect these sorts of things.

Anonymous Coward says:

and we thought the SS and Gestapo were no longer in existence! just goes to show but then, surveillance is the be-all and end-all in the USA now, so they’re getting plenty of lessons from us on what to do and how! and i dont recall about many cases against the USA security forces or governments, let alone any wins. so much for ‘land of the free’! only when you can get away with it!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'You can't close your windows, we're looking in through them!'

The response and justification for that would be interesting and really counter-productive as they’d have to give some reason to ban an anti-virus program and it would be really easy for the company to tell people the real reason if the german government tried to lie, and on top of that if someone’s already planning on illegal activity such that being spied upon would be problematic it’s not like they’re going to give a damn that owning the programs are illegal anyway.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'The problem wasn't the act but that WE weren't doing it.'

This approach goes back at least a decade, and now seems to be an accepted technique in the country, which is rather surprising given Germany’s unhappy history of state surveillance and control during the previous century.

Sounds like they learned exactly the wrong lesson from their county’s history as rather than seeing that that sort of power isn’t something that anyone should have and has some serious repercussions they’ve apparently decided that historical german governments were on to something and there’s nothing wrong with the government being able to kick that pesky ‘privacy’ to the curb

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