Germany wants access to data collected by voice assistants like Alexa and Siri — a proposal set to spark debate in the notoriously privacy-focused country. “To fight crime effectively, it’s very important that federal and state authorities should have access to data collected by these devices,” a spokesperson for the German Federal Ministry of the Interior said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The spokesperson added that the issue will be discussed at a conference of German states’ interior ministers next week. Eavesdropping is a politically sensitive subject in Germany. Cybersecurity expert Sven Herpig said German policies have traditionally been supportive of encryption and privacy.
“The policy that we’ve had for the past 20 year says ‘we don’t touch encryption, we don’t weaken it, we don’t build backdoors, law enforcement has to find another way to access data,'” he said. “This idea runs a bit against it,” he added. Herpig said that instead of weakening encryption, the German government has been encouraging “legal hacking” by intelligence agencies.
Germans are traditionally wary of the idea of government snooping and data protection laws are strong as a result. “You have to look at the historical experience with surveillance from the Nazi regime and then by the (East German Communist secret police) Stasi … we have a strong history of being against government surveillance.” The ministry spokesperson said that while the kind of data captured by smart devices could be useful to law enforcement, privacy is a major concern and will be carefully considered.