Germany’s New Cyber Surveillance Agency Receives Carte Blanche for Mass Data Collection

The German government takes cyber surveillance a lot more seriously than other European countries. It even opened a cyber surveillance agency earlier this week. The new Munich-based agency will focus on cyber crime and digital espionage. As is to be expected, this also means increased snooping on telecommunications, data encryption, and mass collection of even more data is in store.

The ZITiS Cyber Surveillance Agency Should be Criticized

Not too long ago, we mentioned how German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was conducting a new facial recognition technology trial. That initiative was met with a lot of public outcry as the technology seemingly collected more information than was originally acknowledged. This same minister has now opened the new ZITiS cyber surveillance agency last Thursday. ZITiS specializes in fighting cyber crime and digital espionage by spying on mass telecommunications, among other things.

While the German government aims to bring cyber crime to an end, the new agency may be a step too far. The mass data collection efforts by ZITiS will raise a lot of questions from privacy advocates. For the time being, there is no official assessment or evaluation of this project and how it will snoop on consumer data. That is not a good way to kick things off, especially not in this day and age of mass surveillance.

ZITiS is not a cheap operation by any means. With a price tag of over US$12 million, the agency will have a lot to prove in its first year. It will create 120 new jobs, although the goal is to increase the workforce to around 400 by 2022. Its centralized location will also serve as a technological resource for Germany’s other security agencies. Furthermore, all intelligence agencies will be placed under the authority of the Interior Minister. Whether or not that is a smart decision remains to be seen.

One particular point of focus by ZITiS is rather vague. The cyber surveillance agency plans to focus on digital forensics related to information gathered from the Internet. It is certainly possible blockchain analysis will play a big role in this regard. After all, many government officials associate Bitcoin and altcoins with criminal activity on the internet. Given the blatant lack of official rules to adhere to on the part of ZITiS operatives, however, it is unclear how far they can go in their research.

Local Pirate Party member Frank Herrmann stated:

“The main task of ZITiS is to break into networks and to break encryptions — those are things that you can only do by exploiting security gaps. This agency’s task is not to close these gaps, but to use them. But computer technology will only become safer if you close these gaps — it’s actually quite sick. ZITiS should be shut down before it’s opened.”

ZITiS is an independent security agency. This means it is not bound by German laws or jurisdiction in any capacity. Indeed, it will be given carte blanche to do whatever it wants. A very dangerous precedent, as unlimited freedom can easily be abused as well. On the other hand, Thomas de Maiziere stated how these new forms of crime require a new set of rules, or lack thereof. That was an interesting comment, although one that will not be supported by the general public.