Germany’s equivalent of the FBI has put out a notice inquiring about highly-trained computer professionals who know how to exploit windows, speak different languages, and fight the bad guys. In short, Germany is developing its own spyware.
Although the Bundeskriminalamt’s (BKA) job offer is not overt, it is neither by any means secret. Germany is seeking to develop its own state brand of spyware in an effort to fight crime and curb terrorism. According to the advert, job applicants must "demonstrate a sound knowledge of C++…have a very good knowledge of low-level programming and the security mechanisms of Windows,” and exhibit a "high degree of creativity.”
Also, if selected, the applicant will be “tenured”, meaning that he or she can only be fired through a difficult mutual decision, essentially guaranteeing the applicant a long career with the agency.
In keeping with Germany’s equal opportunity laws, female candidates will “be strongly considered.”
The notice goes further, stating that if selected, the applicants would have the opportunity to form “international partnerships” where foreign language skills would be required. Whether this is a veiled reference to working with the FBI and CIA is anyone’s guess, but the BKA has already systematically met with its counterparts from 2008-2012 to discuss the issue of shared spying software. Ryan Gallagher writing for Slate.com in April posted a letter from German Secretary of State Ole Schroder to MP Andrej Hunko that detailed the dates and names of the participants of these meetings. The list includes the FBI, Britain, Israel, France, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium among others.
There has been much criticism over the use of government spying practices in Germany over the years, asking what limits can be imposed to prevent unnecessary spying into private lives.
Government-sponsored spyware has definitely been the covert weapon of choice in recent days, as many intelligence agencies have been turning to the software to track individuals and harvest information about them. The complicated software can record your Skype conversations, mine your data, turn on your webcam, take screenshots, and copy your emails.
Only last summer, the Kaspersky Labs internet security firm helped discover the Flame spy virus in computers in the Middle East, sending information to an unknown command-and-control center. Kaspersky and others concluded that the technology was so elaborate that only a government could have sponsored its development and release.
The CIA was thought by many to have been behind the malware, but nothing was ever proved or tracked; flame had a remote “self-destruct” mechanism that wiped it from several computer systems the moment it was discovered.
Germany has also ventured into the murky legal waters of government spying once already. Outrage soared last year when the first German Trojan (or spyware program) was discovered in use by the country’s government. The Chaos Computer Club (CCC), a hacker group credited with discovering the software, came to two conclusions. First, that it was full of defects. Second, that it was against German law.
German constitutional privacy laws protect a “basic right to the confidentiality and integrity of information-technological systems," but even so, the German federal cabinet approved a bill in June 2008 that expands the jurisdiction of the BKA in criminal and terrorist cases.
Under the law the BKA can only use such software to track criminals, obtain information only if an individual’s life is in danger, or if the person being tracked has been deemed suspicious by the German government. Even so, there are loopholes.
Although the law says that the technology cannot be used without the President of the BKA or one of his associates acquiring a warrant from a German judge, the warrant can be circumvented at the BKA’s discretion if the threat of injury or destruction is deemed immediate, according to a report in the German publication Handelsblatt. However, the BKA must still obtain the corresponding warrant within three days of unleashing its spyware.
In its article, Handelsblatt joined with the rest of the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers in condemning the spy tactics, saying that “with all due respect to an improvement in the fight against crime, the newspaper publishers are very concerned about a climate in which policy obviously plays only a minor role.”