Germany To Invest More In Mass Surveillance

The two major agencies in Germany, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND – Bundesnachrichtendienst in German) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV – Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz in German) are asking for more funds from the government.

If the budget plan is accepted for 2017, the BND will get a 12 percent raise (a maximum of 808 million Euros) while the BfV will receive a 18 percent increase (up to 307 million Euros) to their funds, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s report. With raising the budget, the BND hopes to get independent from the NSA.

A special parliamentary committee must approve the resource increase – which is classified, like all agency budgets – however, opposition already raised their concerns over the case.

The majority of the budget increase will be invested in mass surveillance, mostly decrypting “non-standardized telecommunications”, such as messaging services like WhatsApp. These kinds of online services seem to be a main concern for the BND.

“Encryption means that of the more than 70 available communication services … only less than 10 can be gathered and the content read,” the budget plan said.

According to the BND, the agency wants more funds to set up “Panos”, which is a new project aiming to find the weaknesses in messaging apps and decrypt communications across their systems. The leaked plan says BND and BfV need the extra money also for hiring experts from “external companies and service providers.”

Opposition parties say the two agencies are playing a dangerous game since they want to use the taxpayers’ money to surveil the dark web.

“It’s a spiral that has no end. No one can guarantee that these security gaps won’t be sold on to other bidders. It’s a black market. Security gaps are sold on the darknet by hackers, and we already know that government agencies have bought from them, too,” said Frank Herrmann, privacy spokesman for the Pirate Party in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Herrmann also added that intelligence agencies receive this extra money to expose flaws in services and keep them open, instead of reporting them to the companies so they can fix them. This action will have major consequences in both the commercial and the private sector since foreign agencies and hackers could also exploit the gaps.

“Gaps aren’t just used to find criminals – gaps are dangerous to everyone,” Herrmann told the media. “It will create extra insecurity for everyone and feed the black market.”

The BND tries to become independent from the National Security Agency with the new funding, however, Herrmann doubts this.

“Given that most of the manufacturers of software are American companies and that American law gives the NSA all kinds of powers to force those companies to cooperate, the NSA has the power to spy on communications worldwide. It doesn’t make it better to copy that with our own money here,” he said.

In addition to the mass surveillance budget, the BfV also wants an extra 4.5 million Euros to strengthen its cyberdefense capabilities. If the plans would be approved, the Süddeutsche Zeitung said the agency would end up employing about 2,900 people and 800 freelance contractors in 2017 – triple of its personnel since 2000.

“With its behavior the government is not only showing that it still does not have the will to draw the necessary legal consequences from Edward Snowden’s revelations, it is also showing that the protection of the basic rights of citizens is in very bad hands,” the Green Party’s internet policy spokesman, Konstantin von Notz told the media in an email.

“The grand coalition is clearly continuing to march on towards a surveillance state,” Left Party spokesman, Jan Korte said in a statement. “The dwindling trust of people in the state also has something to do with the expansion of surveillance. For who would trust a state that doesn’t stick to the law? On top of that, it’s clear that this doesn’t create more security, but more insecurity.”

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