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Carnivore Use for E-mail in Germany Debated

February 26, 2001

GERMANY — Red-Green government in Germany wants to increase e-mail spying German Carnivore regulation should completely monitor telecommunications.

With the telecommunications monitoring regulation (Telekommunikations-berwachungsverordnung, or TKV), the German government hopes to perfect the monitoring of telecommunications and make even e-mail subject to universal surveillance.

The plan for this regulation is nearly two years old and is a product of the Helmut Kohl era. If the regulation is approved by the cabinet, then ISPs will soon have to install bugging devices in the same way as telecommunications providers. They will have to store connection data and content for half a year and transmit it to the state on demand. Only the operators of company networks will be exempt from this obligation. The ISPs must buy the appropriate bugging devices themselves.

The equipment is to be inspected by the Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Posts, and non-compliance can carry a fine of up to 20,000 German marks.

There is already talk of a German "Carnivore" regulation. Carnivore was, untilrecently, the name of a similar bugging device used by the American FBI to search through all e-mails for certain key words.

Germany is already a worldwide leader in wiretapping its citizens. In December, Joachim Jacob, the German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, told (more here) that from 1998 to 1999, the number of official, judicially ordered cases of telephone surveillance alone increased from 9800 to 12,600. However, Jacob indirectly implied that the estimated number of unreported cases could be much higher.

Legal expert Jvrg Essen of the FDP criticized that this increase has taken place against the backdrop of falling crime rates.

The e-mail spying that has been devised by the German Federal Ministry of Economics is thus another link in the chain of the dismantling of democratic rights. It affects only the general public; the drug mafia and other organized criminals can afford to work with expensive encryption devices.

Simple e-mail spying doesn't touch organized crime - this is proven by the fact that the draft of the TKV makes it clear that providers must "completely record all the telecommunications that are to be monitored" and then hand these recordings over to the "authorized authorities", not only to the police and the Federal Criminal Police Office, but also to the Office of Data Protection.

In using the newest technology, the bugging specialists assume that "the technical and operational procedure of setting up the required monitoring measures can usually be completed within 10 minutes." E-mail addresses and credit card numbers are to serve as identification.

If the people under surveillance use encryption programs such as PGP, the "authorized authorities" demand to have the data in clear text. But no one can de facto force another person to relinquish his or her private key. It is too easy to delete a private key and generate a new key pair. In the future, all those who value their basic democratic right to confidential communication should regularly encrypt their e-mail.

Eco, the German electronic commerce forum, told the Financial Times Deutschland (FTD) that German Internet providers want to fight against the expensive bugging measures.

Michael Rotert, the head of the lobby group, appeared shocked by the plans for the bugging devices. The dialogue that has up until now taken place with representatives from the government and the Federal Criminal Police Office seemed to take a different direction. The plans are "technically completely half-baked. Data packets sent on the Internet often go through "four to five carriers."

Providers would thus have to acquire just as many bugging devices. According to the FTD, Rotert estimates the cost of each bugging device to be 140,000 to 150,000 German marks. Such a burden would spell the end of small providers in particular.

In the Netherlands, where ISPs have been forced to acquire the spying equipment by the spring of this year, the industry association is already counting on the bankruptcy of one-third of all providers.

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