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Bavaria sanctions police spyware

Trojan horse rides roughshod over opposition

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Bavaria has become the first German state to approve laws that allow police to plant spyware on the PCs of terror suspects.

The controversial measures allow local law enforcement officials to plant Trojans on the PCs of terror suspects (and potentially other serious criminals) from the start of August, Heise reports (Google translation here). Although there are safeguards, the measures go further than those enable by federal legislation, passed in June. Federal laws prohibit physically tampering with suspects' computers, restricting the tactic to spyware delivered by email.

Bavarian laws, by contrast, allow police to sneak into suspects' homes in cases where attempts to remotely install so-called remote forensic software fail. In these cases, physical search of a suspect's residence would also be allowed. The powers are restricted to cases where "urgent threats" to life are suspected. Importantly judicial warrants would not need to be obtained in these circumstances, Heise notes.

Opposition Green and social democrat politicians voted against the measures, contained in the Bavarian Constitutional Protection Act, arguing that the legislation is "unconstitutional". Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann disputes this interpretation of the law, arguing the procedures are in line with both federal laws and the constitution. Opposition politicians and civil liberties campaigners fear that the powers could be applied to a far wider range of criminal suspects while paving the way for fishing expeditions.

As well as the dragnet concerns security experts have long pointed out the practical shortcomings of the use by law enforcement of Trojan tactics. Police-sanctioned malware may get into the hands of cybercrooks, for one thing. There's also concern about the admissibility of evidence obtained using the tactic.

Herr Herrmann gave short shrift to such objections, stating that Bavaria is leading the field in "internal security" in becoming the first German state to approve the plan.

Bavarian police have reportedly been laying the groundwork for the scheme for some months. Leaked documents, published by Wikileaks back in January, outline proposals by German firm Digitask to develop technology capable of intercepting intercept Skype VoIP communications and SSL transmissions. Costing and licensing proposals drawn up by the Bavarian Ministry of Justice for the software also surfaced on Wikileaks at the same time. ®

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