In June, the German government instated a policy that allows them to hack and monitor the digital interactions of people suspected of criminal activity. With this new Trojan hacking tool called Remote Communication Software (RCIS) 2.0, the government’s ability to monitor digital activity will no longer be limited to desktop computers.
Through this software, their reach will extend to mobile interactions, as well. RCIS 2.0, which is expected to be ready by the end of the year, will be able to bypass encryption in messaging apps like WhatsApp, providing the German government with direct source access.
This policy comes into action a month shy of the one-year anniversary of the Munich Shooting in which ten people were killed and thirty-six others were injured. In the recent year, Germany has not been the only country to suffer assaults from terrorist organizations.
In June, three men drove a van into a group of pedestrians on the London Bridge, before proceeding to exit the vehicle and stab nearby pedestrians, causing the event to be known as the London Bridge Terror Attack. In May, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at Manchester Arena during an Ariane Grande concert where he killed twenty-two people and injured fifty-nine. More recently, in Barcelona, Spain, a crowd of people was mowed down by the driver of a van believed to be connected to a terrorist organization.
The German government has used these attacks to fuel the initiation of RCIS 2.0. However, despite their claim of best intentions, there are many who are critical of the policy and what it could actually mean for the German people.
Member of the Pirate Party, Frank Herrmann, told online news source DW he isn’t convinced that the use of software like RCIS is legal, based on the German constitution.
“It’s not that easy to bring the legal formulations into step with the technological,” Herrman informed DW. “If the law says that no alterations are allowed to be made to the user’s device, then that isn’t technically possible with a Trojan.”
Chaos Computer Club Spokesman, Falk Garbsch, spoke to Netzopolitik on the matter, as well.
“To sell state hacking as just another surveillance measure like any other is, in the face of the newly published papers, a brazen distortion of the truth,” Garbsch informed Netzpolitick. “An arsenal of Trojans is being built as if it were already normal for the state to hack the digital brains of its citizens.”
However, while RCIS will be a government developed and monitored program, the backup in case RCIS is ever breached, FinSpy, is privately owned and would be operated outside of government control.
FinSpy was developed by Gamma International and is able to record calls, messages, turn on different components of the device such as the microphone or the camera, as well as monitor the device’s location.
However, European governments are not alone in receiving criticism for their digital monitoring.
In 2013, the Obama administration came under fire after National Security Agency (NSA) leaker, Edward Snowden released information about the US surveillance program, PRISM, to the media.
PRISM enabled the NSA to access consumers’ online interactions and behaviors such as photographs, video chats, emails and other materials. Upon the release of this information, the American public took to both the streets and their computers to protest.
Of course, some can argue that if you’re neither a criminal nor terrorist, there’s nothing to worry about. Still, in this new era of government hacking, is the idea of privacy more fact or fiction?