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German Govt Stands Against Trend of Increasing Surveillance, and I Applaud It

Last Updated April 4, 2024 4:10 PM
Last Updated April 4, 2024 4:10 PM
By Matthias Pfau
Verified by Ana Alexandre
Key Takeaways
  • Germany ushers in a new era of digital rights with an encryption law push.
  • The encryption law proposal signals a win for personal privacy rights.
  • However, as the law has not passed yet, we must keep the pressure on politicians.

2024 is going to be a year to celebrate here in Germany, at least for digital rights’ activists: the German government just published a draft law that will guarantee the right to encryption.

This law is being praised by internet activists, privacy advocates, and IT security experts alike.

Germany champions digital rights

As a co-founder of an encrypted email service, I am applauding our German government for this courageous step in the right direction. Encryption lies at the very foundation of our modern digital society.

Encryption is the backbone of the internet: it is used to protect our personal data, secure our communications, safeguard our right to privacy, and, consequently, our freedom of speech.

By planning to enshrine the right to encryption in law, Germany is taking a bold step to make sure our digital world remains safe from malicious attackers, (state-sponsored) mass surveillance, and other cybersecurity threats.

Today, more and more data is moving to the cloud, and people and businesses are spending increasingly more time online. This has made the digital world the number one place for crime, fraud, and other cybersecurity threats.

In recent years, identity theft has become a major issue, and uploading vast amounts of data to the cloud without strong end-to-end encryption makes it way too easy for fraudsters to get at this data.

The German move to guarantee the right to encryption  is an amazing development in a world where digital rights are increasingly under threat. Contrary to the path Germany is now taking, many governments, such as all members of the Five Eyes Alliance, are in the process of sacrificing everybody’s right to privacy by passing laws for more surveillance powers.

Surveillance around the world is rising

These laws, namely Chat Control introduced by the EU Commission, the US EARN IT Act , and the UK Investigatory Powers Act, are just some of the many laws—already passed or not—giving the authorities immense power to monitor its citizens’ online communication.

The only measure we have to defend ourselves from overly aggressive snooping is unbreakable end-to-end encryption, like, for example, building a fully encrypted email and calendar service to enable people around the world to protect their data and to communicate confidentially.

However, this high level of security is now under threat by a plethora of legislation aiming to weaken or undermine end-to-end encryption, for instance, with client-side scanning.

Politicians around the world want to use client-side scanning to detect dangerous communication on the users’ devices, such as terrorist activity or child sexual abuse material, and pass the flagged content on to the authorities, without end-to-end encryption.

Should such a requirement be passed into law and such technology be forced onto cloud service providers, people will have zero privacy.

For that reason, the German government is now moving in the opposite direction: by guaranteeing German citizens and businesses the right to encryption, they can make sure that encryption is not undermined and that privacy is protected.

German law signals hope

The publication of this draft law signals hope that politicians finally understand the need for encryption and strong privacy protections in our digital world.

The German law guaranteeing the right to encryption sends a clear message that privacy is not a privilege to be surrendered at the whim of the state but a fundamental human right that is worth fostering and protecting.

Moreover, Germany’s embrace of encryption sets a powerful example for other nations grappling with similar issues. By upholding privacy protections over surveillance expansion, Germany demonstrates leadership in the global conversation surrounding digital privacy rights.

In today’s internet, surveillance is becoming increasingly normalized, and privacy is often treated as a cumbersome afterthought, if at all. The German government’s affirmation of the right to encryption is cause for us to celebrate.

It represents a triumph for individual liberty, a victory for digital rights, and a strong signal to individuals and businesses that their privacy concerns are being heard and taken care of.

However, as the law has not passed yet, we must keep the pressure on politicians. As a cryptography expert, I am happy to discuss the importance of encryption to keep our data safe online with politicians around the world.

Now is the time that we, as privacy advocates, make our voices heard and support politicians who fight with us for the right to privacy. The goal in Germany is clear: make sure that the draft law on the “right to encryption” gets passed in April 2025.

About the author: Matthias Pfau , a co-founder of Tuta, an encrypted email and calendar service from Germany. Matthias is a software engineer and cryptography expert. He launched Tuta (formerly Tutanota) shortly after the Snowden leaks to protect people’s data from online snooping.

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