Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) is preparing to implement a “federal trojan” to patrol the dark net. With this state spying software, Austrian law enforcement authorities hope they can prevent cybercriminal activity on the dark web.
“The Interior Ministry lacks the necessary technical and legal requirements in order to operate with the perpetrators on an equal footing,” Sobotka said on Tuesday during a debate in the Committee on Internal Affairs of the National Council.
Sobotka had already made plans for investigators to survey communications via WhatsApp or the Facebook Messenger app. By doing so, the interior minister wants to crack down terrorist messaging.
“If terrorists use Messenger, we must be able to listen to this communication,” he said in August. “”It is a challenge, but we need to discuss that now.”
Multiple researches have proven that the Islamic State uses social media platforms and encrypted messaging for recruiting potential terrorists and for other communications. The German government is also working on a similar device by the “Central Agency for Information Technology in the security area” (Zitis). Currently, about 400 IT professionals are on the project.
Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter (ÖVP) had similar plans back in June, however, he halted the bill when it received massive criticism from all sides. Brandstetter is currently working on a “similar, but better” solution.
Sobotka also added in his Tuesday statement that the storage of user data is conventional in the government’s fight against terrorism.
Such as Brandstetter, the interior minister had received criticism from privacy rights activists.
“[Encryption] is the only way to protect private and sensitive data such as passwords from unwanted access. A circumvention of encryption methods would open the floodgates for criminals,” a spokesman for privacy advocate group AKVorrat said.
Sobotka announced his plan for federal trojans, which can be used for governmental spying on both computers and smart devices, in a press release published on August 11.
“We need but think in Austria about a series of other measures presented today in Berlin, and quickly,” said the interior minister. “I can well imagine that we should souvenir one way or another, by both operational and legislative measures, also in Austria. Also, we have to face in Austria discussing whether the legal separation of ‘telecommunications services’ and ‘Telemedia services’ are still up to date. In my opinion, the current state is bad. It can’t happen that someone is planning terrorist attacks on the internet and the police is looking powerless.”
The governmental hack of encrypted messages is a serious question. By doing so, law enforcement authorities may prevent upcoming terrorist attacks and crimes from happening, however, it raises immense privacy issues. Since the proposed bill limits the privacy of citizens, privacy advocates will do everything necessary to prevent this action from happening. Encryption provides safety to users and by removing so, this move by the government could not only attack the privacy but could also result in criminals stealing personal information from potential victims.