Users of an email service backed by the German government will soon be able to rely on strong encryption of the kind that used to be the preserve of geeks and hackers, officials said Monday.
From April onward De-Mail, an email service available to anyone in Germany, will feature end-to-end encryption based on the Pretty Good Privacy system.
PGP is considered one of the safest encryption standards for secure email, but it’s notoriously complicated. De-Mail, which is also used by German government agencies, will use a browser plug-in to encrypt messages while they’re in transit, according to a statement by the Interior Ministry.
“Germany wants to take a leading role in the use of digital services,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. “Encryption is an important precondition for this.”
Edward Snowden’s revelations two years ago about the extent of electronic surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency caused uproar in Germany. The country’s own history of state-sponsored snooping during the Nazi era and under Communism in the East has instilled in many a strong expectation of privacy.
While the content of De-Mail messages will be hidden, the identity of the sender and recipient won’t. That’s because users need to verify their ID to set up an account, a measure meant to ensure that the service can be used to exchange legal documents.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate said that when necessary to fight crime, German security services would aim to intercept messages before they are encrypted or after they have been decrypted. In practice, this is done by installing a covert program to access data on a suspect’s computer.