It is not a grateful task to ask police and intelligence agencies how many people are monitoring them. The answers to such questions are usually quite monosyllabic. The member of the Bundestag of the Left Party, Andrej Hunko, still does it regularly. However, the answers have now become even more economical than they already were.
Every year since 2014, Hunko asks how often the authorities use so-called silent SMS for surveillance. The most avid users of this technology are therefore the employees of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. That at least was to be seen from the previous answers of the Federal Government on Hunko questionnaire. 100,000 to 180,000 silent SMS sent the constitutional protectors so far each year. Since 2019, however, this number is secret and may no longer be published.
If the text is silent, the mobile phone of the recipient receives a message that is not displayed by the device. He or she does not notice. In order to receive this invisible SMS, the mobile phone must log on to a radio mast. This will give the authorities feedback on where it is currently located. If many such SMS are sent in the course of a day, can be made from this location data complete movement and behavioral profiles of those affected. The device itself does not need to be manipulated or bugged. Each phone automatically receives silent text messages, making it so attractive to investigators.
The number of silent messages sent is accordingly high. At the same time, it is not very meaningful. It can only be roughly estimated from them, against how many people this surveillance instrument is used. Nevertheless, two authorities want to give more information about it. The Zollkriminalamt always classifies the corresponding answers as "secret". Now also the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) has begun, after it had answered for years.
"The secrecy is outrageous"
The Federal Government justified the new silence of the constitution protection with the persistent demands of the left-wing fraction. By answering their parliamentary question regularly, the individual information could be "condensed into a comprehensive picture of the situation," the answer says. Such a "compression" had already "occurred to a considerable extent" by the previous answers. This allows "conclusions on the intelligence profile of the intelligence services and the development of the same over the years". That could not be (more) accepted "for reasons of the welfare of the state."
Just the information, whether the BfV ten thousand silent SMS more or less sent per year, already endangers the security of the Federal Republic? "The sudden secrecy is nasty," says Hunko. After all, he wanted to check with his questions so, whether the authorities use more or less of these surveillance tools. The figures of the Customs Criminal Office would also be hidden from the public.
As a Member of the Bundestag, however, he can even learn these numbers, they are deposited in the secret protection agency of the Bundestag for him as a deputy. However, he is not allowed to write them down or reveal them to anyone who is not a secret bearer. This also applies to the figures of customs, which have never been published. "But we can say that they cause our concern."
Hunko considers the secrecy illegal, it contradicts the constitutional information obligations of the Federal Government. How should abuse of such surveillance technology be uncovered if no one knows how often it is used? Incidentally, it was only these parliamentary questions that ensured that there was a public debate on "electronic spying", says Hunko.