Boom Triggered By NSA: German Email Services Report Surge in Demand

Deutsche Telekom launched an initiative earlier this month which aims to make German email traffic more secure. Zoom
DPA

Deutsche Telekom launched an initiative earlier this month which aims to make German email traffic more secure.

German email providers are enjoying a jump in demand following the NSA data surveillance scandal. Companies are beefing up their security features and promoting their accounts as being among the most secure in the world, thanks in part to strong privacy laws.

In the wake of the NSA surveillance revelations, Internet users seem to have learned that as soon as their data reaches an American server, it could be read by the country's intelligence services. German companies are benefiting from this realization -- German email providers have seen a significant increase in new subscribers in recent weeks.

Freenet, a listed telecommunications provider known for its strong anonymity protection, has seen an 80 percent increase in new users over the last three weeks. German web hosting company 1&1, meanwhile -- parent company to email providers GMX and web.de -- has seen a six-figure increase in new joiners over the same period.

T-Online, a business unit of Deutsche Telekom and the biggest internet service provider in Germany, would not confirm their exact number of new joiners, but also pointed to a "stronger interest" in its email service. It remains unclear how many of the new users have set up email accounts in addition to existing ones, and how many have actually cancelled accounts with US providers such as Yahoo or Google.

Email Made in Germany

The increased interest in German email providers may be linked to a recent push to promote the country's data networks as some of the most secure in the world. In an attempt to attract new customers, Deutsche Telekom earlier this month launched an initiative which aims to make German email traffic even more secure.

Dubbed "Email Made in Germany", the program includes new security measures making sure that email travelling between three of its email services -- T-Online, GMX and web.de -- never leave local servers. The provider's emails are now encrypted, and users are notified when they are composing an email to a recipient whose address does not fall under the program's protections.

The initiative was launched just after it emerged that American email provider Lavabit, the service supposedly used by Edward Snowden to protect himself from NSA snooping, was closing down. A letter posted on the website explaining the move seemed to refer to a court order from the American government asking for cooperation in its spy programs.

The move left some 300,000 users with defunct email accounts. Ladar Levison, the company's owner and operator, issued a clear warning to users: "I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."

Expert Opinion

German experts have in recent weeks made similar assertions. Thilo Weichert, head of the Independent Center for Data Protection, explicitly advises the public to use German email providers: not only are the country's data protection laws clearer and more explicit than those in other countries -- the way in which they are enforced is also more reliable.

"The moment that the data is in the US, it will definitely be used by the NSA, and subsequently by other government agencies including the CIA, FBI and the DEA," he told news agency dpa in an interview. "If I use Google-Mail, it's pretty certain that my data will be saved on American servers, and can then be accessed by the NSA."

Despite the fact that German networks are more secure than their American counterparts, some Germans are taking additional security measures. Jimmy Schulz, a member of the business-friendly Free Democrats, last week invited his fellow parliamentarians to a so-called "crypto party" -- an event dedicated to teaching politicians how to encrypt their email.

"It's the same as locking your car," says Schulz. "Data has to be protected from trespassers, no matter whether they are members of the intelligence service or criminals."

fh -- with wire reports

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1. Boom Triggered By NSA: German Email Services Report Surge in Demand
tge123 08/26/2013
If you send and email to the U.S. don't you have to use a U.S. server and then wouldn't your security be jeopardized?
2.
kukaramanga 08/27/2013
Like sheep to the slaughter. But, surely, the government of Germany is the only government in the world that doesn't spy on its denizens.
3. Neuländer
c64 08/27/2013
Germany takes data protection seriously. It also takes the Universal Human Right for privacy seriously. It would be illegal for German secret services to arbitrarily spy on everyone. In the USA this is completely legal and the human right for privacy is worth nothing. Germany should use this momentum and politically push German cloud services. Politicians and companies of other European countries know that they can count on German data protection laws, so Germany could make tons of money by embracing all the former Amazon cloud customers with open arms.
4. Neuländer
c64 08/27/2013
@tge123 If your contacts use German mail providers too, then there's nothing the NSA can do without breaking German law. Germans take their laws and constitution seriously. There is a constant battle going on between the people and the politicians who try to reduce our right for privacy. Our federal minister of justice is on the side of the people.
5. Providers only offer service in limited countries
ollithom 08/27/2013
While it is a good idea to push these brands, only one of them - T-online - allows people anywhere in the world to register. Both web.de and gmx only offer this service for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. GMX offers gmx.com for others but it does not come with the same privacy guarantees. If they want to take advantage of people's concerns about US providers they need to make their products available globally and provide English language service.
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