Germany’s CSU wants to increase monitoring of digital space

To ensure that cyberspace does not remain "a blind spot for our intelligence services", the CSU proposes a number of measures, such as screening the Darknet, obliging internet providers and platforms to report crimes, as well as a "digital libel law". EPA-EFE/LENNART PREISS [LENNART PREISS/EPA]

At a party retreat in Bavaria on 8 January, Germany’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) passed a resolution highlighting its ideas on digital policy. Although digital activists criticised the party’s demands for increased monitoring of the digital space, they agreed with its approach to 5G expansion. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In keeping with the title of the document (full title: “Our policy for a strong state and a well-fortified democracy – for a new decade of sovereignty“), the party calls for tougher penalties and increased surveillance, but is also committed to preserving “free space on the Internet”.

CSU also calls for a “cyber offensive for our security authorities”. Its aim is to take effective action against extremists and terrorists who increasingly conduct their crimes online.

Protection or strategy?

To ensure that cyberspace does not remain “a blind spot for our intelligence services”, the CSU proposes several measures, such as screening the Darknet, obliging internet providers and platforms to report crimes, as well as a “digital libel law”.

And when it comes to 5G expansion, the party is proposing that only up to 50% of the components come from one provider. Besides, the CSU supports the initiative of its interior minister to use more intelligent video surveillance.

“I read this paper as an intention to shift the discourse back to security policy,” criticised Viktor Schlüter, co-founder of the Digital Freedom Initiative.

This is particularly important to the CSU now that public debates have shifted from the classic CSU topic of refugee and migration policy to the climate issue, meaning the CSU is now waving “red rags”, which Schlüter calls “digital populism”.

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The Darknet dilemma

In the resolution’s first item, the CSU paints a gloomy picture, highlighting that the Darknet, which can only be browsed using special browsers, has developed into an “Amazon for criminals”. This is where weapons and drugs are bought in complete anonymity without the fear of being caught.

The CSU, therefore, wants to bring “light into the Darknet”.

Schlüter criticised the word Darknet, saying it “is something for people who don’t understand the Internet”. Because the term Darknet, which has a negative connotation, is technically nothing more than websites that can only be visited anonymously.

And this does, indeed, enable the trafficking of drugs, weapons and child pornography. However, people with more noble motives are also dependent on it, such as investigative journalists or dissidents from authoritarian regimes, who often can only communicate securely via these anonymous networks.

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The CSU plans to take action only against illegal activities on the Darknet, the deputy chairman of the Committee for Digital Agendas, Hansjörg Durz (CSU), explained to EURACTIV. And penalties for operators of illegal platforms are to be increased.

And according to Schlüter, this is also a good idea in principle, but there is a catch.

The Darknet can only be monitored “completely or not at all”. From a technological standpoint, it is impossible to distinguish users of these illegal platforms from the dissidents who remain anonymous. Either you expose everybody or nobody.

The CSU is currently still discussing the technical implementation of the project, said Durz.

Increased reporting, more staff

In order to improve the penal system for cybercrime in general, the CSU not only wants to create a “criminal law for insults in the digital sphere”, but also to oblige teleservice providers and operators of communication platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter etc.) to report any suspicion of serious crimes to the Federal Criminal Police Office.

But these well-intentioned measures would miss the mark, according to Rainer Rehak, deputy chairman of the forum “Computer Scientists for Peace and Social Responsibility”.

After all, the problems faced by the authorities have never been linked to a lack of information, but a lack of personnel and resources. CSU’s Durz assured that together with the draft law, an increase in staff is also planned.

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5G: preventing ‘monocultures’

Rehak commented positively on the resolution’s 5G points. The CSU demands that “the components of a provider in the 5G network must not account for more than 50% of all components”.

The German government is currently facing the decision about whether to allow the Chinese company Huawei to participate in the expansion of the 5G network.

While the head of the German intelligence agency, Bruno Kahl (CDU) considers it to be too risky, Chancellor Angela Merkel has so far been against such an exclusion.

Durz also made it clear that the CSU is “against the exclusion of certain suppliers” and is instead in favour of this diversification, as it would “prevent monocultures”.

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Facial recognition plans off the table?

Both digital activists are very critical of the planned expansion of smarter video surveillance. This refers to cameras that can automatically recognise faces or assess situations (i.e. fights) using artificial intelligence.

Automatic facial recognition, in particular, recently became a talking point after Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) said he wanted to expand this technology across German railway stations and airports massively.

While Saskia Esken, the federal chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), spoke out against it, Schlüter founded the initiative “Stop Face Recognition – Now”, which Rehak supports. They are critical of automatic facial recognition, saying it can falsely classify people as criminals and forces citizens to conform.

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If implemented, the …

Now it looks like the are receiving unexpected help from Brussels: According to a document leaked to EURACTIV, the European Commission is considering a “temporary ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public places”, putting Seehofer’s plans off the table, at least for the time being.

The CSU document refers to the general use of intelligent video surveillance to detect dangerous situations, something which, according to Durz, could work without facial recognition.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Samuel Stolton]

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