Germany mulls move to improve snooping on cars and homes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 December, 2017, 8:11pm

The German government is considering legal changes that would oblige operators of car and home alarm systems to help law enforcement in their efforts to spy on potential terrorists or criminals, a spokesman for the interior ministry said on Friday.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a conservative, plans to discuss the issue with security officials across the country next week in a bid to remove what he sees as hurdles to better surveillance, the spokesman said.

But those plans have already sparked criticism from Social Democrats (SPD), who are partners in the current German caretaker government and under pressure to renew the “grand coalition” that ruled Germany for the past four years.

Surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany given its legacy of spying by East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the Nazi era Gestapo.

Boris Pistorius, an SPD member and interior minister of the state of Lower Saxony, said de Maiziere’s plans were premature and “panicked”, and called for a more measured approach.

“2017 is not Orwell’s 1984,” he told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung in an interview published on Saturday. “We need sound judgment and not exaggeration.”

In the past, law enforcement officials have run into difficulty installing secret listening devices in cars and flats because people were tipped off by security systems in electronic gadgets connected to the internet, or received text messages when their cars were opened.

Officials have been exploring legal changes that would require alarm system operators to provide law enforcement with specific tools that would enable them to secretly open and circumvent alarm systems in cases involving suspected terrorist activity or organised crime, the spokesman said.

He said authorities were not seeking access to suspects’ computers, smartphones or other electronic devices.