German government’s surveillance software unsettles a nation that prizes privacy

January 17, 2013
January 17, 2013

Germans take their privacy seriously and have coined a term—gläserner Bürger, or “the glass citizen”—to describe a dystopic future in which Germans are surveilled around the clock. The news that that Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany’s version of the FBI, is testing software by a controversial surveillance firm is sure to raise the glass citizen image yet again.

A leaked document (PDF in German) from the German ministry of the interior, which was published on Wednesday by netzpolitik.org, reveals that BKA has acquired software from Gamma Group for monitoring computer and internet use in “case it will be necessary to use.” BKA has also been working on its own surveillance software, which it expects to finish in 2014, according to the document.

The document doesn’t say which Gamma product the agency has bought, but it is likely FinFisher, which was previously tested in Germany in 2011. BKA, which denied using the program, plans to surveil Skype and telephone conversations, e-mails, and chats of criminal suspects, according to the leaked document.

FinFisher is known for being used by regimes to spy on dissidents. Traces of FinSpy, part of the FinFisher tool kit, were discovered on computers of opposition members in Bahrain, and there were reports that Gamma offered FinSpy to Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt before it fell. Gamma says it only sells its software to governments for criminal investigations.

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