Especially in the context of right-wing attacks in Germany, this question has once again moved into the focus of public debate. The German government now wants to regulate the powers of the secret services to read encrypted messenger services such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Skype by law. And thus replace the old legislation, which still distinguishes between telephony and internet services.
The current draft states that German secret services—after approval by a G10 commission of the Bundestag—can now also gain access to messenger data from written communication. Up to now, secret services have only been allowed to listen in on ongoing messenger conversations of suspicious persons. An original draft law, which also allowed online sniffing (i.e. covert access to computers, smartphones and other IT services), was rejected.
The draft is controversially discussed in the Bundestag and by external parties.
Proponents see the draft law as an opportunity to adapt German jurisdiction to the current state of the art. And to guarantee the independence of German secret services in the detection of terrorist-motivated crimes. Up to now, they have been dependent on tips and assistance of foreign secret services, to which such hurdles do not apply. At the same time, some data protectionists see the draft as an upgrade of civil rights: because missing regulations would not necessarily lead to higher data protection. After all, only constitutional rules on data surveillance would create barriers that also apply to foreign secret services, for example. If these are missing, this would weaken rather than strengthen civil rights.
Opponents, on the other hand, see the draft law as a curtailment of the fundamental rights of the individual. In particular through the extension of competences of the “Office for the Protection of the Constitution”, which the draft also contains.