Governments could read WhatsApp or email messages

A terrorist attack is followed by new desires on the part of domestic politicians, which is almost a law of nature. The attack in Vienna is no exception. According to the Austrian radio, the EU Council of Ministers has prepared a resolution that is almost ready for a decision, which calls for investigating authorities to be allowed access to encrypted communication via Whatsapp, Signal or other messenger services. Police and other "authorized authorities" should therefore have access to the secure chats.

On the one hand, it is "extremely important" to ensure the confidentiality of communication through encryption - but at the same time the authorities must be able to "lawfully access relevant data" in legitimate, clearly defined cases of organized or serious crime or the fight against terrorism.

The request of the authorities would be understandable in principle. There were times when you could read almost everything that was said online - the police via court order, the secret services even easier. Secure encryption in messenger services changed that. If authorities now want to read WhatsApp chats, they have to install Trojans on the suspects' devices. This is a comparatively large amount of effort that the authorities would like to save.

But even if a law could be passed, it would not solve the real problem. A back door in the big messengers would lead to serious criminals and terrorists using other, even safer apps. Apps from vendors who do not comply with possible new laws. However, communication between all innocent Whatsapp users would be unsafe. Because once installed, a back door can of course not only be used by the police. There is therefore great excitement among NGOs and privacy experts.

A spokesman for the Federal Ministry of the Interior denies that the aim of the resolution are back doors in the systems. Instead, it is a matter of "working with industry on proposed solutions that involve the least possible interference with the encryption systems". Germany has not changed its fundamentally positive stance on the subject of end-to-end encryption.

It's not just the good guys who take advantage of weaknesses

It would be a long way to go before the wishes of the states become a law, and the EU Commission and the European Parliament also have a say in this.

Because only the EU Commission can propose laws in the EU, and so far it is also considering "no encryption ban", as the authority told FDP member Moritz Körner in a statement a year ago: "Encryption is one of the means to protect confidentiality and privacy and is widely recognized as an important tool for security and trust in open networks, "the opinion said.

However, it is questionable whether limited access for investigative authorities, as envisaged by the Council, would also be interpreted by the Commission as such an undesirable "prohibition": Everyone would still be free to use encrypted services - only that would be the case less sure. In another area, the Commission has also just expressed itself critical of encryption technologies. In a strategy paper on combating child pornography, for example, she writes that "the use of encryption technology for criminal purposes should be addressed through solutions that allow companies to discover and report cases of child pornography in encrypted communication". For this purpose, the e-privacy guideline from 2009 is to be adapted accordingly.

But even if the Commission were to follow the demands of the member states and make a legislative proposal, it would also have to be supported by the EU Parliament - and should at least meet with fierce resistance in its Civil Rights Committee. For the SPD, the MP Birgit Sippel sits on this committee. She says: "At this point at the latest, we as the EU Parliament will ensure that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is fully respected and that the rights of citizens are not buried under the guise of supposed security."

Voss: No clear political majority for back door

The Christian Democrats are traditionally more open to security demands such as those made by the ministers. But the CDU MP Axel Voss also says: "Discussions on the subject of data protection and encryption technology are fundamentally highly controversial in the European Parliament. At the moment I do not see any clear majorities for this step." According to him, however, it is right to have such discussions, because "one should not turn a blind eye to the risks of a completely inviolable space for communication". However, decryption is not a panacea and, given the widespread use of WhatsApp, a "highly sensitive topic": If there are high control and security measures, the possibility of supporting investigations with digital solutions should not be rejected from the outset.

The FDP MP Körner also thinks it is good that the ministerial proposal leads to discussions - but for a different reason than Voss: "In EU legislation we often have the problem that the protests only come when the law is almost ready to negotiate There's not even a bill now, but the attention is already there. "