If the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) has its way, users would have to identify themselves with every e-mail provider and messenger in order to be able to use the service. This is one of several requirements that can be found in a formulation aid from the Federal Ministry of the Interior for the planned revision of the Telecommunications Act (TKG). Such an identification requirement would have far-reaching consequences for users and providers. In practical terms, this could mean that German users would have to carry out identification procedures, which were previously only available for telephone contracts and banking transactions, when setting up any e-mail account or before using services such as Whatsapp.
Other short-term proposed changes concern obligations of unclearly defined “participants in telecommunications services”. Internet cafés or providers of hotspots could also be obliged to collect data from users and hold it for information requests from the security authorities.
Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer was already smirking in front of cameras about the fact that you only have to make laws so complicated that no one understands their consequences, then you can get a lot through. Most of the last-minute change proposals that have been circulating now are not particularly complicated. But here, apparently, controversial demands by the security authorities are only supposed to migrate into the bill after being heard by experts. They commented on the innovations planned so far on Monday. The new demands of the BMI only became public on Tuesday evening due to a data leak.
Competitive disadvantage for German providers
The Ministry of the Interior does not want to comment in detail on the catalog of claims leaked by the email provider Posteo, but does not deny it either. In general, one is always careful to optimize the possibilities of the security authorities for effective criminal prosecution.
It is questionable whether the proposals actually contribute to this. If identification were required for messengers, criminals could simply switch to other non-regulated messengers from foreign providers. They would then have to be banned in Germany as a consequence. German providers who would have to adhere to the rules would have a competitive disadvantage in international business – not to mention the immense effort that identification procedures mean for every customer. Experts are therefore of the opinion that the proposals from the Federal Ministry of the Interior may not be taken seriously: “I think this is more of an attempt by the Federal Minister of the Interior,” says the former Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, Peter Schaar, who is now the European Academy for Data Protection EAID chairs.
Chinese standards in German law
Schaar refers to other states in which such rules exist. Above all, they are authoritarian regimes. “To orientate itself towards China in terms of security policy, while at the same time wanting to forbid the Chinese company Huawei from building antennas in Germany for security policy reasons, I think it is rather strange.”
Whether Nebelkerze or not, the head of the German email provider Mailbox.com, Peer Heinlein, considers the BMI’s approach to be undemocratic. Heinlein had given his opinion on the new TKG to the economic committee on Monday as an expert on the left. He and his team had also prepared a few critical sentences about the identification requirement. However, in the justification for the draft law, the federal government explicitly assured that this storage requirement for inventory data for number-independent services – such as e-mail providers – was not planned. So Heinlein deleted the passage from his statement again. Heinlein believes that the fact that it was planned at the time of the hearing by the Federal Ministry of the Interior was dishonest.
If the wording aid from Seehofer’s department can be found in the final draft law, Mailbox.org boss Heinlein demands that the draft be discussed again. A second hearing of experts is unusual, but the responsible economic committee could ask the Ministry of the Interior for an opinion.
Member of the SPD Economic Committee Falko Mohrs tweeted on Wednesday, the “wish list of horror” is not enforceable with his party. There is a passage in the party’s current “future program” that does not make the approval of the SPD appear completely unlikely. There it says: “We will therefore also oblige the platform operators to create the conditions for fundamental identifiability.” But even in the Union one is apparently not completely on the side of the Federal Minister of the Interior, CDU digital politician Thomas Jarzombek wrote also on Twitter, “most of the points” had failed the parliamentary group’s vote. Jarzombek left it open to which points the parliamentary group agreed.