Mass surveillance: Wissing announces veto on chat control

Another setback for EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson’s plan to push through a regulation on online surveillance linked to the fight against child sexual abuse: Volker Wissing, Federal Minister for Digital Affairs and Transport, has promised a veto for the Swede’s controversial initiative. The FDP politician emphasized to heise online: “The federal government has sent a clear signal at European level that Germany will not approve the proposed regulation unless fundamental changes are made. That also applies to me with regard to the scanning of private communications if it is unencrypted.”

Wissing is thus responding to the Federal Government’s statement on the Commission’s project, which has just become public. The German executive is thus taking a clear stance against chat control using client-side scanning (CSS), i.e. the particularly hard-fought search and diversion of private communication directly to the user’s end device. This could undermine the end-to-end encryption of services such as WhatsApp and Signal. According to the paper, the government is still examining the admissibility and the possible scope of server-side detection measures in unencrypted telecommunications and storage services, for example in the cloud.

Critics from civil society, which is active in internet politics, see this clause as a breach of the traffic light coalition agreement. It says: “We reject general monitoring obligations, measures to scan private communication and an identification obligation”. Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has prevailed, according to initial assessments. Like her parliamentary colleague Johansson, the social democrat continues to campaign for the monitoring of private, unencrypted communication through server-side scanning of chats, even after devastating criticism at a Bundestag hearing. The FDP-led federal ministries for digital affairs and justice, on the other hand, set red lines on the commission draft at an early stage.

“The protection of privacy and private communication is a basic requirement for the functioning of our democracy, trust in the state and its institutions,” emphasizes Wissing now. “Therefore, there must be no chat controls. We must fight sexual abuse consistently, but not at the price of restricting free communication.” His cabinet colleague Faeser is in charge of the dossier. In order to achieve the best possible representation of German interests at European level, the federal government will, according to the coalition agreement, “ensure a unified approach to European partners and institutions”.

Faeser would completely snub Wissing in this way if she were to vote for a position in the EU Council that does not rule out chat controls of any kind. An abstention in the ministerial body counts as a dissenting vote. A blocking minority in the Council could ultimately be achieved if at least four states, representing more than 35 percent of the EU population, oppose a decision. Austria, for example, is also expressly against chat control. The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and France took unclear positions last year.

After the opinion of the Council of government representatives of the member states, which is initially due, negotiations with the EU Parliament will follow. There, too, there are many critical voices regarding the monitoring and censorship components of the Commission’s draft. A potential agreement still needs to be confirmed in plenary and by the Council. Due to his concerns, Wissing recently managed to get last-minute concessions from the Commission in the dispute over e-fuels, thereby confusing the Brussels establishment quite a bit. His objections to any form of chat control should not fall on deaf ears with the commission.


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