It’s like a state secret. The answer to the question of whether German security authorities can now monitor encrypted communications from target persons – and how they do it. For example, read WhatsApp chats on smartphones or listen to Skype conversations on a laptop. When you ask, you usually get a standard answer. By “becoming aware of this information”, the Federal Ministry of the Interior replied rather dryly, “conclusions about the procedure, investigative skills and methods” could be drawn. And this would endanger the security of the Federal Republic.
There should be answers today, Tuesday. Namely in the Interior Commission of the Bundestag and in the secret round of the Parliamentary Control Commission (PKGr), which oversees the work of the secret services. The federal government would then have to report to parliamentarians whether the German authorities have bought – and are using – the controversial spy software “Pegasus” from the Israeli company NSO Group.
According to research by SZ, NDR, WDR and The time the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is said to have bought the Israeli surveillance tool from the NSO last year. A modified version of “Pegasus”. The process is classified as “US secret” to this day, and only a few people in the BKA would have been familiar with it. Now, however, the MPs must also be informed about this.
It wasn’t just terrorists or other serious criminals who were being spied on
The “Pegasus” trojan, which can be used to extensively monitor and spy on smartphones, was sold to police and secret services around the world. In July, a consortium of international media and Amnesty International revealed in the course of the “Pegasus Project” that in numerous cases, not only terrorists or other serious criminals were being spied on with the software, as NSO claims. Oppositionists, human rights activists, journalists, diplomats and even heads of state and government were also selected as surveillance targets by the Israeli company’s clients. NSO denied the facts while pointing out that the company had no insight into the wiretapping measures of its customers.
In Germany, the NSO had tried several times in recent years to sell its espionage program to local security services. In 2017 there were first meetings, including with the Federal Criminal Police Office in Wiesbaden, and later also with the Bavarian State Criminal Investigation Department (LKA) in Munich. Until now it has always been said that the “Roadshow” was not a success. No contract was concluded. The “Pegasus” Trojan is too powerful, the software can do more than German law allows.
In fact, however, the BKA would have started a procurement process in 2019 and then had contact with the NSO Group. Finally, the Israeli manufacturer is said to be convinced to provide a modified version of the spy software. A variant that can be legally used by German detectives. A stripped-down version like a German state Trojan, so to speak.
However, it is unclear whether the Trojan has already been used. Since an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure in 2017, the German police have been authorized by court order to use such surveillance tools for the prosecution of certain criminal offenses in order to read encrypted communications. In years of work, the BKA had developed two state Trojans and acquired other commercial products.