Despite widespread outrage about the NSA revelations among a population that has over the last century had to exist under two ‘surveillance regimes’ (the Nazis and the Eastern Bloc German Democratic Republic (DDR)), the German government is giving its foreign intelligence agency €100m to expand its internet spying program.
The BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) will use the money to expand its ‘staff and technology’; including 100 new staff members (at least some of whom will form a new ‘technical reconnaissance’ team’), and increased server capacity. At present German law allows the BND to monitor (PRISM style) up to 20 per cent of internet traffic, but it only has the capacity to monitor around 5 per cent. The ‘improvements’ are aimed at allowing it to monitor the full 20 per cent of traffic that is permitted for it to do.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich made statement to Der Spiegel saying that “we have to balance out a loss of control over the communication of criminals through new legal and technological means… Of course our intelligence agencies also have to be present on the Internet.”
The announcement came just 2 days before today’s meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkal and US President Barak Obama. Angry activists and concerned citizens are reported to be planning protests, with a large one to take place at Checkpoint Charlie, a location that still resonates with the symbolism of oppression.
As ever, one of the best ways to evade such blanket surveillance is to use a VPN service, so we thought that it would be good idea to include a list of ‘5 Best VPNs for Germany’.
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Winner – Private Internet Access
Positives: no logs, great attitude to privacy, very fast, accepts Bitcoin, VPN client has some great features, P2P: yes
Negatives: US company
Although the fact that Private Internet Access is a US based company has introduced a note of uncertainty in light of the NSA scandal, we still believe it is trustworthy. PIA has built a very solid reputation for maintaining users’ privacy, keeping no logs, using shared IP to make it very difficult to identify individual users, and accepting anonymous payment by Bitcoin. It is also a very fully featured service, offering a great Windows and OSX client with DNS leak protection, port forwarding and an internet kill switch, as well as an OpenVPN Android app and support for almost every VPN setup you can imagine. Users in Germany will appreciate PIA’s servers in the Netherlands and Switzerland, both countries where VPN providers are not subject to data retention laws.
Positives: No logs, accepts Bitcoin, transparent service, fast, excellent attitude to privacy, VPN though SSL and SSH tunnels, Tor over VPN, P2P: yes
This Italian VPN company, formed by Pirate Party internet freedom and net neutrality activists, is perfect for those who would rather (and quite understandably) avoid using a US based company. In addition to keeping no logs and accepting Bitcoin payments, AirVPN supports VPN over Tor and VPN through SSL and SSH tunnels, subscribes to various EU privacy directives and codes of practice (but not the Data Retention Directive which does not apply to VPNs in Italy), and demonstrates its net transparency by clearly showing what all its servers are up to. In addition to this, OpenVPN encryption is an almost overkill 256-bit AES, and it has servers scattered throughout Europe.
Positives: accepts Bitcoin, no logs, good speeds, cheap, client features internet kill switch and DNS leak protection, P2P: yes, 3 simultaneous connections
Mullvad is a small Swedish VPN company who impressed us from the start, but seemed to have a couple of teething issues. We are glad to say these appear to have been completely resolved, and retests on speedtest.net produced some great results. The reason we are so happy is that Mullvad has a great attitude to privacy, keeping no logs and accepting not just Bitcoin payments but also cash sent by post, in addition to having a great VPN client for Windows, OSX and Linux that features port forwarding, DNS leak protection, and an internet kill switch. Although Mullvad does have servers in Germany, given the subject of this article we suggest using their Netherlands ones instead.
Positives: no logs, fast, great VPN client with internet kill switch, good free service , 30 day free trial, P2P: yes
Negatives: Does not accept Bitcoin, VPN client is Windows only (although guides are provides for setting OpenVPN up on other devices)
Although this Romanian company loses a point for not accepting Bitcoin payments, it easily makes it up with a 30 day free trial (and a rather good free service). Windows users are in luck, because the client for that OS is excellent, and includes an internet kill switch. Users of other OS’s are fairly well catered for however, with detailed manual setup guides. As with all services in this list, CyberGhost keeps no logs, and has servers in various locations around Europe.
Positives: No logs, accepts Bitcoin, , 256-bit AES encryption, P2P: yes
Negatives: very ‘no frills’, lack of EU servers (Netherlands only)
BTGuard is a Canada based VPN provider who keeps no logs, accepts Bitcoin payments, uses ultra-secure 256-bit encryption, and maintains servers in the Netherlands. We do find the service to be a little on the basic side, as its use of the generic OpenVPN client means that no bells and whistle are included, and we also feel that it could be a little faster. However, BTGuard is secure and it works well, making it a solid if unexciting choice.
Despite the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany rejecting the EU Data Retention Directive in 2010, Germany has always had a bad reputation for surveillance and copyright enforcement. The news that government surveillance is to increase can only make it more urgent for privacy conscious residents of Germany to start using a secure VPN service which values its customer’s privacy. All of the above providers fall into this category.
And here’s the summary once more: