German officials want emails, IMs tied to real-world ID

BERLIN (AP) — Germany security officials are proposing that Internet companies should link a user’s real-world identity to all of their instant messages, emails and other online communication, prompting criticism from digital rights activists.

Like in many other countries, mobile phone firms in Germany are required to verify a customer’s identity before selling them a SIM card. Under a proposal leaked late Tuesday, Germany’s Interior Ministry wants the same rule to apply to “number independent” telecommunications services such as WhatsApp, Signal or Facebook messenger.

A ministry spokesman declined to explicitly confirm the veracity of the proposal, which was leaked by secure email provider Posteo. But the spokesman said police had the right to interfere with communications privacy “whether the user resorts to classical telephony or encrypted telecommunications services.”

“I think it’s obvious that the security agencies in Germany need to have the the same powers in the analogue world as in the digital world if they are going to do their job,” the spokesman, Steve Alter, told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday.

Henning Tillmann, co-chairman of D64, a group that campaigns for citizens’ rights in the digital world, warned that the proposal risked making Germany a “mini-China.”

“This couples technological ignorance with surveillance fantasies,” he wrote on Twitter.

The proposal is currently at the consultation stage among ministries and may not survive in this form in a planned telecommunications bill.