The data protection group Digitalcourage has complained to the Constitutional court about a federal law allowing the use of Trojan spyware by government authorities with the Berlin-based NGO Society for Civil Rights (GFF) and a handful of lawmakers from the Free Democratic Party (FDR) expected to file a similar complaint later this week, Deutsche Welle reported.
The plaintiffs argue that the law, enacted less than a year ago, that allows authorities to read encrypted messages with the help of secretly installed spyware on computers and cellphones violates several constitutional rights and "jeopardizes security rather than guarantees it."
The authorities, for their part, insist that the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) intercepts encrypted communications and keeps an eye on online activity only when investigating terrorism and other crimes.
They also believe that messaging apps with end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp or Telegram, should be intercepted just like telephone conversations and traditional text messages.
"We must protect citizens and companies. This means we must be able to investigate this space," he argued.
Critics still fear that that the country’s security services may go too far, making the use of malware an everyday practice rather than an exception.
"If you look at the instances of when there were terror attacks in Germany, the problems weren't a lack of intelligence, but negligence when it came to evaluating and communicating information with other authorities,” Digitalcourage spokeswoman Kerstin Demuth said.
An amendment to the German Criminal Code, passed by the Bundestag on June 22, 2017 and known as the “state Trojan law” creates the legal basis for police and the state to use malware to spy on mobile phones, chat groups and internet accounts. Previously, only the Criminal Office was allowed to use such software to protect Germany against terrorist attacks. Critics see it as a major infringement on individual privacy.