Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière’s decision to broaden investigators’ powers to include the surveillance of private conversations on messaging services such as WhatsApp faces fierce resistance among privacy-concerned Germans who view the move as a “grand eavesdropping operation.” The minister himself defends the step as “overdue” and a necessity in times of heightened security concerns and a growing number of militant attacks across Europe.
In an exclusive interview with Handelsblatt, Mr. de Maizière said it was high time to put communication services on par with the obligations of other companies when it came to providing sensitive information to authorities. “It can’t be that every small firm under certain circumstances is obliged to collaborate with security authorities, but providers of communication services aren’t,” he said, adding that the state’s success in investigating crime couldn’t depend on which method of communication a person was using.
But growing surveillance is a controversial issue in Germany, where memories of the Nazi Gestapo and the East German Stasi security police still linger. “The one who surveils computers and smartphones can also activate microphones and data storage, allowing him to know nearly everything on the target person,” Ulf Buermeyer, a judge at the Berlin district court and head of the German Society for Civil Rights, wrote in a statement. He added that the government’s amendment was worse than a “grand eavesdropping operation” and might even violate the constitution.