Guess What Anti-High-Tech Spy Technology Germany Plans on Using

By Jon Sullivan (Bodie Typewriter, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jon Sullivan (Bodie Typewriter, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Germans think it’s germane: typewriters are accordingly the solution against high-tech espionage.

Politicians in Germany are thinking of going back to using manual typewriters to write or document important or sensitive matters, especially those concerning Germany’s security and defense, as a likely anti-high-tech spy technology option. In an interview with the TV program Morgenmagazin, the head of Bundestag’s parliamentary inquiry into US spying in Germany said that he along with other German politicians are seriously considering the idea of foregoing electronic messaging. When the host asked if they are considering typewriters as an option, Christian Democrat Patrick Sensburg answered that they indeed are. In fact, they are rethinking of bare bones typewriters, not the electronic models. Surprised, the host answered back with a question “Really?” Sensburg said he was not joking.

Going Low Tech

The possibility of going low tech in handling highly critical information is not really out of the ordinary or shockingly ridiculous. In 2013, Russia did something similar as a Kremlin security agency bought typewriters “to avoid leaks.” The Kremlin back then announced that it was spending around $14,800 for the purchase of 20 electric typewriters to prevent digital leaks. Well, don’t mind the seeming overprice there. What will be slightly different with Germany’s approach, though, is the preference for non-electronic typewriters or the most basic model.

The Spying Situation

It’s worth noting that the announcement happened on the same day when German authorities apprehended a spy referred to as “Markus R,” said to be working for the BND German spy agency. Markus R is said to be sending critical information to the United States CIA. He allegedly approached and shared information to the CIA in 2012 by email. Now, he is accused of having sent more than 200 documents to the CIA and having received around $34,000 for the deed.

Markus R is said to have been working with CIA agents since 2012 but he was only caught this year after the German government was able to intercept an unencrypted email he supposedly sent to the Russian consulate in Munich.

By Pascal Kirchmair (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Pascal Kirchmair (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A week ago, Germany already expelled the station chief of the CIA in the country. US relations with Germany is not expected to get any better anytime soon. Things have been aggravated with the recent discoveries of US spying on its allies as late last year, the German government already had issues with foreign espionage as they accused the NSA of spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel. This problem has been dubbed as the worst crisis in US-German relations since the second World War.

Preventing Further Digital Espionage

For his part, Sensburg said that he will be having a security audit performed on his smartphone. He encouraged other chairmen and committee members to have the same done on their devices. Concern over smartphone bugging came after it was discovered that two members of the German Parliament had compromised handsets, including the one owned by an ex-member of the intelligence committee.

While the “typewriter solution” is not yet in place, Sensburg said that internal communication within the German government should always be sent through encrypted emails. The use of encrypted phones and other similar security-augmented devices is also encouraged.

Is the Manual Typewriter Really the Solution?

A typewriter will make it difficult to produce and maintain documents. Some German politicians’ paranoia of even preferring manual typewriters makes things even more convenient. Having everything in physical paper form will result to the need for large spaces for storing documents. It will also require a traditional form of delivery to have important correspondence delivered to the intended destinations. All these will lead to slower processes and inefficiency that will be difficult to justify.

By Jon Sullivan (Bodie Typewriter, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jon Sullivan (Bodie Typewriter, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It will be better for Germans to create and strictly use technologies that will prevent instances of digital spying. High tech spying technology  should be countered by an even better technology, not by reverting to manual processes. There are secure mobile phones German authorities can use to minimize the interception. One example is the Black phone. The German government can test it or develop something similar.

Even paper documents themselves are not safe from spying. All it takes is to have an embedded “asset” within the organization or office to take high resolution photos of the documents using a mobile phone or an even smaller hidden camera. Maybe Germany can go through a phase of going manual first as they try developing their security system, but they should still consider giving greater priority in pursuing technology-based espionage protection as the more practical solution.