WhatsApp, Signal & Co.

Messenger surveillance: ÖVP plan meets with criticism

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26.04.2024 14:47

The draft law drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior for the surveillance of messenger services such as WhatsApp or Telegram has been met with criticism. The Neos party spoke of the "next unsuitable proposal" from Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP). The data protection organization "epicenter.works" once again warned that knowledge of security vulnerabilities could also be exploited by criminals to hack cell phones. The Greens have argued similarly so far.

"All experts agree that it is technically impossible to monitor messenger services without accessing the entire system," said NEOS data protection spokesperson Niki Scherak, also referring to the Constitutional Court ruling against a "federal Trojan" from 2019.

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Either the Minister of the Interior knows neither the legal situation nor the ruling of the Constitutional Court, or he simply doesn't care about either.

NEOS-Datenschutzsprecher Niki Scherak

"Either the Minister of the Interior knows neither the legal situation nor the ruling of the Constitutional Court, or he simply doesn't care about either," he criticized. Surveillance measures must be based on a specific, justified and individual suspicion and must never be used to monitor all individual communications of citizens. Furthermore, it should never be in the spirit of the rule of law that security loopholes are deliberately left open.

Data protection officer warns of security loopholes
Criticism also came from epicenter.works Managing Director Thomas Lohninger. He warned on "Ö1" Mittagagsjournal that critical security gaps would not be closed at the instigation of states and that these could then be exploited by criminals or even state actors to cause a great deal of damage. He did not accept the argument that it is possible to monitor messenger services in other countries and referred to numerous human rights violations in Poland, for example.

He also remains skeptical with regard to the necessary order by the Federal Administrative Court and the involvement of the Legal Protection Commissioner, as provided for in the draft law. A highly technical measure such as hacking cell phones involves technical expertise, which must be subject to independent control.

Karner wants to monitor WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram
According to the draft law drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior, in the event of a concrete suspicion of terrorist offenses or secret intelligence to the detriment of Austria, existing security gaps in cell phones could be used in the future to check suspects' devices for content exchanged via messengers such as WhatsApp or Signal using software. This does not involve an online search of all the data stored on the cell phone. Spying should be limited to the messenger services installed on the device.

The plan has not yet found a majority: the Green-led Ministry of Justice has so far rejected the installation of malware and leaving security gaps open on devices due to constitutional concerns.

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