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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German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

A 50-year-old German man was jailed for life Tuesday for shooting dead a petrol station cashier because he was angry about being told to wear a mask while buying beer.

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

The September 2021 murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein shocked Germany, which saw a vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement emerge in response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

The row started when 20-year-old student worker Alex W. asked the man to put on a mask inside the shop, as required in all German stores at the time.

After a brief argument, the man left.

The perpetrator – identified only as Mario N. – returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he bought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off his mask and another argument ensued.

He then pulled out a revolver and shot the cashier in the head point-blank.

On Tuesday, the district court in Bad-Kreuznach convicted Mario N. of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, and handed him a life sentence.

READ ALSO: Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

Under German law, people given a life sentence can usually seek parole after 15 years. His defence team had sought a sentence of manslaughter, rather than murder.

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Nicole Frohn told how Mario N. had felt increasingly angry about the measures imposed to curb the pandemic, seeing them as an infringement on his rights.

“Since he knew he couldn’t reach the politicians responsible, he decided to kill him (Alex W.),” she said.

Mario N. turned himself in to police the day after the shooting.

German has relaxed most of its coronavirus rules, although masks are still required in some settings, such as public transport.