Germany May Bring Back Typewriters in Wake of Spy Scandal

Old Typewriter
Typewriters have individual, signature writing patterns which make tracing documents back to their original sources much, much easier. Steven Depolo/Flickr

The German commission looking into the U.S. spying scandal could be driven to communicating by typewriter, its chair has said, such is the fear of information being intercepted by foreign intelligence services.

Asked if the NSA investigation committee had considered using the ancient devices as an anti-spy measure, Patrick Sensburg responded: "As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either."

Sensburg, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party, is currently heading the inquiry into recent revelations that the U.S. has been covertly collecting intelligence on the German government.

“Unlike other inquiry committees, we are investigating an ongoing situation. Intelligence activities are still going on, they are happening,” he told Morgenmagazin TV on Monday.

The investigation was triggered after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked evidence that the U.S. had been bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone last year.

Over the last fortnight, German counterintelligence uncovered two separate cases of US spies, targeting German officials, resulting in the expulsion of a top US embassy official from the country.

"I am convinced that even more will be revealed in the coming weeks and months, and that America will not be the only country involved," Sensburg told German newspaper Der Spiegel.

The chairman has already announced his priority of making his commission as spy-proof as possible. Crypto phones have already been purchased for him and his colleagues in a bid to foil any bugging attempts. Typewriters may be the next arrival on the desks of German parliamentarians.

“The idea that Germany may revert to typewriters is an interesting one. They would not be alone in doing so,” Professor Rory Cormac of Nottingham University, author of Spying on the World told Newsweek. "Russia reportedly reverted to using typewriters last year in the aftermath of the NSA revelations. Interestingly, German model typewriters are apparently popular with the Russians." 

Der Spiegel has already questioned if these new measures are not signs of "paranoia," while several German MPs have voiced their disapproval of Sensburg’s plans.

"Before I start using typewriters and burning notes after reading, I'd rather abolish the secret services," tweeted opposition party MP Martina Renner.

“The idea that we can protect people from surveillance by dragging them back to the typewriter is absurd,” Christian Flisek of the Social Democrat party told Der Spiegel.

Some onlookers have not been quite so incensed by the spy scandal, however. "Allies have long spied on each other," says Professor Cormac. "Britain, for example, spied on the Americans during the First World War. In the 1960s, Britain spied on other members of NATO.

“The German authorities need to publicly express disapproval, to appease an angry public," he added. "The revelations are not hugely controversial.”

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