A vintage typewriter

Das comeback der schreibmaschine: how Germany keeps its secrets

German politicians are seriously considering a possible return to the humble days of the manual typewriter for top-secret correspondence, in an attempt to avoid electronic communications being intercepted by NSA snoopers.

The German TV programme Morgenmagazin aired an interview this week with Christian Democrat Patrick Sensburg, who is handling the Bundestag’s parliamentary enquiry into NSA spying activity in Germany.

During the interview, Sensburg mentions that he and his colleagues have considered getting rid of their email completely.

The interviewer asks Sensburg if they have considered using typewriters instead, to which Sensburg replies, "In fact, we have - and a non-electronic typewriter".

“Really?” asked the interviewer in a surprised tone. “Yes, no joke”, Sensburg confirmed.

In an article in Die Welt published on Monday, it appears that it’s not just a return to the typewriter that is happening in Germany. The article reports that Sensburg now requests that all electronic communication devices are checked. This applies to mobile phones, “but also for used laptops, tablets and computers in the offices”.

Even with the crypto-phones that some politicians have, it is obviously only a matter of time, the article suggests.

The article states that, above all, ‘we tried to keep the technology from the body. Those who are affected call each other less, but are increasingly meeting in person again. A lot of coffee is drunk and people eat lunch together. Also walks in the parks are enjoying a new boom.’

Germany is not the first country to go back to analogue communication technologies. A year ago, it was reported in the Guardian that the Russian guard service reverted to using typewriters after Edward Snowden leaks regarding NSA activity incited Russian paranoia about global electronic communication snooping. The Russian guard service ordered 20 manual typewriters in response.

However, Russia as a whole appeared to take a similar stance to electronic communications, with the Guardian reporting that ‘much of the country's sprawling bureaucracy appears stuck in time, resigned to using telegrams and faxes for most communications.’

Many documents are still not created in electronic format. An anonymous source said, “This practice continues inside the defence ministry, the emergency situations ministry and the security services.”

Further information

Watch the German TV interview with Patrick Sensburg

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