On June 22, 2017, the German Parliament passed a bill that, among other things, awards extensive surveillance powers to law enforcement authorities. The new law, once in force, will allow law enforcement to covertly install software on end user devices allowing the interception of ongoing communications via Internet services such as WhatsApp or Skype. These new measures may be used for investigating a wide array of crimes (the “Catalog Crimes”), which are classified as “severe” but range from murder to sports betting fraud to everything in between.
Today, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is only allowed to engage in similar activities to prevent international terrorism. All other law enforcement authorities are only allowed to intercept regular text messages and listen to phone conversations in cases of Catalog Crimes. However, these investigators are currently fighting a losing battle against end-to-end encrypted Internet services. With respect to such services, the current legal framework only allows for access via the respective telecom operators. These operators, however, can only provide law enforcement with the encrypted communications streams. By introducing the new law, the German government now aims to prevent “legal vacuums” allegedly resulting from this surveillance gap.