The head of the Bundestag’s parliamentary inquiry into NSA activity in Germany said in an interview with the Morgenmagazin TV programme that he and his colleagues were seriously thinking of ditching email completely.
Asked “Are you considering typewriters” by the interviewer on Monday night, the Christian Democrat politician Patrick Sensburg said: “As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either”. “Really?” the surprised interviewer checked. “Yes, no joke,” Sensburg responded.
Sensburg’s remarks were not greeted with enthusiasm:
“Before I start using typewriters and burning notes after reading, I’d rather abolish the secret services,” tweeted Martina Renner, an opposition member of the parliamentary committee investigating the activities of US and other intelligence agencies in Germany. Sahra Wagenknecht, Die Linke party’s deputy chair, described the suggestion as grotesque.
Christian Flisek, the SPD’s representative on the committee, told Spiegel Online: “This call for mechanical typewriters is making our work sound ridiculous. We live in the 21st century, where many people communicate predominantly by digital means. Effective counter-espionage works digitally too. The idea that we can protect people from surveillance by dragging them back to the typewriter is absurd.”
Yet while Sensburg may regret his comments, there is little question that revelations about digital surveillance have triggered a fundamental rethink about how the German government conducts its communications.
“Above all, people are trying to stay away from technology whenever they can,” wrote Die Welt. “Those concerned talk less on the phone, prefer to meet in person. More coffees are being drunk and lunches eaten together. Even the walk in the park is increasingly enjoying a revival.”
Last November, in the immediate aftermath of the revelations of NSA monitoring of Merkel’s mobile phone, the German government instructed its MPs to only use encrypted mobile phones for sensitive calls. The use of iPhones for intra-governmental communications is reportedly banned.
Since then, some have even questioned whether the state-of-the-art “Secusmart” encryption mobile currently used by the chancellor is safe from bugging attempts.
I think some reversion to low-tech solutions is going to be inevitable.