During the Cold War, the East German state was infamous for its police state. The East German State Police, or Stasi for short, often used hidden audio recorders and cameras to monitor people. They even embedded odor samplers into furniture to collect scents for police dogs to follow.
These days, any aspiring police state wouldn’t have to go to such lengths to monitor their citizens. The smartphones in our pockets and other smart devices collect plenty of data that police would love to get their hands on. And next week, Germany’s interior ministers are meeting to discuss ways to access and leverage such data.
The German state police now want access to all of the data gathered by smartphones, Amazon Echo, and other devices. A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry argued:
“To fight crime effectively, it’s very important that federal and state authorities should have access to data collected by these devices.”
If the Interior Ministry is able to access such data, they’d be able to peek directly into German homes and businesses. For many, this could constitute a serious invasion of privacy. Still, Germany has some of the strongest privacy laws in the world, so it’s unclear if such efforts to monitor civilians would even be legal.
There might be a devious loophole, however. Much of the data gathered by companies like Google is actually stored outside of the country. German authorities, and authorities elsewhere for that matter, are now trying to figure out if they could legally access this out-of-country data.
On one hand, access to such data could help police forces around the world combat criminals and terrorists. On the other hand, it’d be a big step towards making the fictional Big Brother of “1984” real and commonplace.