German Government Tracking SMS And Encrypted Chat Apps

Law Enforcement Can Now Track Encrypted Chat Apps

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Just when you thought you were safe with encrypted messaging, the German government has revealed plans to start tracking SMS and encrypted chat apps.

A new bill was just voted in by the German paliament that would allow them to hack into encrypted chat messaging services to read messages during criminal investigations. The new laws have been created to give law enforcement more power to bring down criminals and potential terror threats in Berlin and across the rest of Germany.

Not everybody said yes to the bill, but with a majority saying yes from both the Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), the bill has now been put in place.

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Interestingly, the powers given to law enforcement with this bill are an upgrade to powers they already had, as opposed to brand new powers they didn’t previously have access to. In the past, German law enforcement already used different SMS tracking methods in certain criminal cases.

Going forward, law enforcement in Germany will now be able to track SMS messages and also track messages sent through end-to-end encrypted chat services such as WhatsApp or Telegram. The bill didn’t state when law enforcement would or would not be granted these powers, but it seems as if there will be a procedure in place that law enforcement officials must follow before they can snoop on messages.

Typically, these methods are only available to very specific high profile criminal cases. For example, in the case where having access to a criminal’s communication methods could help them to bring a ring of criminals to justice, it’s likely that permission would be granted to law enforcement.

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It’s interesting to note that German law enforcement does not have any methods available to remotely hack into the encrypted chat messaging services that were mentioned earlier in the article. Instead, law enforcement will need to gain permission from the German government to install tracking software on the offending person’s smartphone device physically, or through phishing techniques. So, rest assured, your messages sent through WhatsApp and other similar apps won’t be tracked so long as you have set up the end-to-end encryption features.

Typically, this new bill will be used to give law enforcement more power to stop terrorism and other dangerous criminals. The bill can also give law enforcement the same powers for those evading tax and those running fraudulent sports betting schemes.

Whilst this law is potentially a step in the right direction for combating terrorism, it has opened up a lot of room for debate and criticism. The complaints stem from the fact that the tracking software the law enforcement will use will give law enforcement officials access to more private data than may be necessary for tracking criminals. The software can easily track any incriminating data, but it can also track private data including legal private conversations between the potential criminal and their friends or family.

Thankfully, for most of us, this new bill won’t affect anybody living in Germany. The end-to-end encryption methods used on apps like WhatsApp are still safe to use and there seems to be no mention of backdoor access in the bill.

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