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Germany's Chaos Computer Club aspires to raise awareness of online dangers

The Chaos Computer Club radiates enthusiasm. At its annual convention, members have called for consequences following the Snowden revelations. CCC spokesperson Falk Garbsch explained why to DW.

DW: The motto of this year's CCC convention, which started on Saturday in Hamburg, is called, "A new dawn." Why do you think now is the time for a new beginning?

Falk Garbsch: Over the last two years we have seen that the level of surveillance by institutions operating around the world that exceeds our worst expectations. We knew that a lot of it was technologically possible, but we didn't know that it happened on such a large scale. It took us the last two years to understand what is happening.

Last year's convention was overshadowed by a general feeling of helplessness. We are trying to leave that behind us with the new motto. We aim to get to a point where we say, "Now we have to take action, now there is a chance to act against all that which became public knowledge due to the Snowden revelations."

What are you going to do?

There are various levels. For one thing, it is important for us to have a socio-political discourse. We have to look at what to do next: what do we approve of and where are the limits of surveillance? The discourse cannot be restricted to convention centers, it has to involve the society as a whole. We have to lay out our objectives and be clear about the implications of this kind of surveillance.

How do you think you can raise users' awareness? It appears that, to a certain extent, people don't care about technology-based surveillance.

It is impossible to make general statements. Some users say, "I'm under surveillance, but I have nothing to hide." There are others who say, "We've seen this before - this has happened before in the past." And it is true that none of this is really new. For many years, secret services have been keeping tabs on people. The former East German state security made use of surveillance structures. For some people, this is unacceptable.

At the moment I, regrettably, don't see a common social goal, a point where we say, "We've reached the limit now, we don't want total surveillance." For instance, being traced 24 hours a day via one's mobile phone, interfering with private data, interfering with private computers, all of this is no longer acceptable for us.

Compared to the initial impact of Edward Snowden's revelations, we have seen relatively little action in the area of guaranteeing more online privacy, both by Germany and the United States. What do policymakers have to do now?

There have to be consequences. The work of intelligence services has to be reviewed - as does their right to exist. If necessary, their aims and methods will have to be redefined. Many intelligence services were launched more than 50 years ago. At that time, current developments could not have been predicted.

Data protection is another issue, of course. Which are the legal parameters? The rise of the Internet has led to a globalised flow of data. It will be important to reach agreements at the international level on how this is dealt with.

How exactly do you see this taking shape? How can your conference influence the German Chancellery or intelligence services?

We have developed close contact with various politicians and work with them. This includes publicizing problems that we have identified. This year we have two consecutive presentations on mobile phone surveillance that explain how, on a international level, not only intelligence services but also people with sufficient financial resources can keep tabs on mobile phones and locate them at will. By going public on this issue we can exert pressure and, hopefully, convince politicians - or the public at least - that something has to be done. In many areas we need technical solutions or legal frameworks containing a commitment to data protection or data minimization.

This year, the CCC convention focuses primarily on security leaks in mobile communication. What are the new dangers which we will be facing in 2015?

The issues which we are discussing are not new - they have been around for quite a while, all the same they are little known thus far. The time has come to unveil them and get rid of them. We see that, with more and more people using smart phones, private companies collect data via mobile applications and also hand them over to the intelligence services. That's the challenge we are facing: We have to think about how these data are processed and where they can be allowed to resurface. And this is not just the challenge for 2015, but for the next 10 years.

Falk Garbsch is a member of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) and its spokesperson. The Hamburg-based club, founded in 1981 as a hacker group, has been staunchly defending data privacy for years and draws attention to security leaks.

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