When people think of mass surveillance that governments like to carry out, they usually think of authoritarian nations like China or overstepping of governmental bodies in the United States under the excuse of fighting terrorism. The truth of the matter is, most countries around the world engage in some sort of mass surveillance on some level.
Germany is currently one of the biggest surveillance nations in the world. That is due to one of the world’s largest internet exchange points being located in Frankfurt. That is, the entire planet’s internet traffic goes through it to get from one side to the other. It’s rather easy and cost-less for them to monitor it all.
So what changed? Well, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court (think: Supreme Court) ruled on May 19th, 2020 that the privacy rights offered by the German constitution apply to foreigners as well as Germans. In other words, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) (think: NSA) needs to respect the privacy of non-Germans around the world as well.
Of course, data obtained by the BND is shared with other intelligence partners around the world as well, including the NSA, in what is commonly referred to as the “Fourteen Eyes” treaty of nations that share intelligence with each other.
Another critique of the court’s regarding the way the BND handles data is the lack of restrictions on what they share with intelligence partners. Additionally, mass surveillance must be replaced by targeted surveillance. As in, no more surveilling of innocent people. And last but not least, journalists need to be protected, for all the obvious reasons that make the first amendment important.
The court gave the German government until 2021 to make the changes to their modus operandi necessary to operate within this interpretation of the constitution.
Now hold on a second, was this actually pleasant privacy news? Does it actually expand our freedoms for once rather than limit them? Yes, it was. And does. As someone who’s been following privacy news for years, it’s refreshingly odd to see an optimistic story about the future of our privacy rather than a gloomy one.