New law unmasks anonymous web surfers

Anonymous web surfing came a step closer to becoming a thing of the past in Germany on Friday when the upper house of parliament passed a law giving security officials wider access to information on the identity of internet users.

New law unmasks anonymous web surfers
Photo: DPA

Ignoring the loud protests of net activists, lawmakers passed the controversial law which allows investigators access to information which could identify a user by their temporarily-assigned IP address.

Any self-respecting hacker would tell you that using a pseudonym has never been enough to hide your identity online, but, in Germany at least, staying incognito on the web just got that bit harder.

The law will enable police and security services to demand internet providers hand over customers’ names, addresses, and account info, surfing history and mobile phone data if they deem it necessary to solve a crime – even for petty offences such as a parking ticket.

“It’s unbelievable that police, secret services, criminal investigators and customs officials will be allowed to identify internet users even for petty offences,” Katharina Nocun, opponent and Pirate Party member told The Local.

Most controversially, authorities can ask internet providers to trace and reveal to them who was assigned a temporary IP address at a particular time, making it possible to tell who has done what and when, online.

Net activists were disappointed by the upper house vote, where a majority voted to pass amendments to German telecommunications law, despite last-minute attempts to limit the new rules.

Critics had wanted authorities to only be allowed to demand users’ information from internet providers where there was proof they were preventing a clear danger to public safety.

German data protection officials had also wanted police to have to get a court order before they could find out who had been using dynamic IP addresses at what time.

Many say the new law does not protect users’ right to secrecy of communications – which is guaranteed in the German constitution. Civil rights activists are already preparing a challenge to bring to Germany’s Constitutional Court.

The Local/jlb

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Driver in Bavaria gets €5,000 fine for giving the finger to speed camera

A driver in Passau has been hit with a €5,000 fine because he was caught by traffic police giving the middle finger.

Driver in Bavaria gets €5,000 fine for giving the finger to speed camera

The district court of Passau sentenced the 53-year-old motorist to the fine after he was caught making the rude gesture in the direction of the speedometer last August on the A3 near the Donautal Ost service area, reported German media. 

The man was not caught speeding, however. According to traffic police who were in the speed camera vehicle at the time, another driver who had overtaken the 53-year-old was over the speed limit. 

When analysing the photo, the officers discovered the slower driver’s middle finger gesture and filed a criminal complaint.

The driver initially filed an objection against a penalty order, and the case dragged on for several months. However, he then accepted the complaint. He was sentenced to 50 ‘unit fines’ of €100 on two counts of insulting behaviour, amounting to €5,000.

READ ALSO: The German rules of the road that are hard to get your head around

In a letter to police, the man said he regretted the incident and apologised. 

Police said it was “not a petty offence”, and that the sentence could have been “even more drastic”.

People who give insults while driving can face a prison sentences of up to a year.

“Depending on the nature and manner of the incident or in the case of persons with a previous conviction, even a custodial sentence without parole may be considered for an insult,” police in Passau said. 

What does the law say?

Showing the middle finger to another road user in road traffic is an offence in Germany under Section 185 of the Criminal Code (StGB). It’s punishable by a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine.

People can file a complaint if someone shows them the middle finger in road traffic, but it usually only has a chance of success if witnesses can prove that it happened.

As well as the middle finger, it can also be an offence to verbally insult someone. 

READ ALSO: The German road signs that confuse foreigners