As with many countries, domestic privacy and surveillance concerns in Germany have been overshadowed by the direct impact of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations in 2013 in the US. However, since Germany was reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, its citizens have suffered internal surveillance from their government and the country has had its fair share of copyright tribunals, anti-piracy legislation, and surveillance disputes to contend with, some of which we’ll discuss in this article, as well as recommending the best VPN providers for servers based in Germany, including for anonymous German IP addresses and encrypted traffic.
- Growth of data
- Copyright disputes
- Anti-piracy legislation
- NSA and mass surveillance
- Best VPN services
The Growth of Data
In 2014, Germany had the 7th highest internet penetration with close to 72 million online users, which is almost 87% of their population. In the same year, 54% of Germans used mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to surf the web, compared with 40% in 2013. Last year, smartphones increased in popularity with ownership surging from 37% to 58%. In March this year, the Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure established the “Breitbandinitiative” (broadband initiative), which promised a nationwide 50 Megabit per second infrastructure by 2018. With more German citizens online than ever before and more investment in platforms and connection speeds, the protection of personal data and the maintenance of civil liberties is highly valued, despite the often dogmatic approach of those German institutions that have been threatened by the increasing digitization of media.
As online access to information has increased in recent years, tensions between traditional copyright holders and digitized material outlets and streaming services have been incremental. Beginning in 2009, a legal dispute erupted between a German publishing house and a public library regarding digital content access, reproduction, and alleged copyright infringements. On 16 April this year the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled in favor of the library, allowing future digitization and reproduction of texts in public and academic libraries. The case was a benchmark for the public sharing of information online in Germany, and as things stand currently, German libraries can digitize their works for viewing in special in-library terminals.
Another major dispute over copyright in Germany also began in 2009, though unlike the former dispute a resolution has still to be reached. The case concerns the German society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights, also known as GEMA, which represent licensing rights for the musical works of those composers, lyricists, and musicians who are members of the society. Over the last six years, GEMA have established a reputation for perseverance when it comes to alleged copyright infringements and royalties payments. In March 2009, Google-owned YouTube began blocking music videos and videos with background music from large music labels in Germany after GEMA proposed a drastic increase in the royalties they received, including performances the rights for which they did not hold. GEMA faced increasing criticism in Germany and in 2010 a German court sided with YouTube, though suggested that a future trial might favor GEMA. In February 2014 GEMA were successful in court, but only in as far as ordering YouTube to remove blocking messages claiming GEMA was to blame for thousands of videos being unavailable. The court case is still ongoing and GEMA are refusing to even discuss a new licence with YouTube. As a result, many music videos from major labels are still blocked.
It seems on the surface that Germany also have a rigid approach when it comes to piracy. In 2011, German officers raided homes and made arrests in relation to the popular streaming website Kino.to. Despite the tough exterior, a recent report suggests that shutting down piracy websites is counteractive since it promotes strong competition, and Germany’s tactics to combat piracy may be nothing more than bravado.
In 2012, the German government proposed the Ancillary Copyright Law, which attempted to make Google pay a license fee when using magazine and newspaper articles from German press publishers. The legislation was passed in 2013, though ultimately backfired when Google asked publishers if it could include their content in Google News free of charge. German publishers faced a dilemma since Google owns 95% of all searches in Germany and the inclusion of news articles in Google News would bring the publishers more readers but they would have to forego the license fee. Unsurprisingly most publishers chose to opt-in.
Germany has a tough approach when it comes to torrenting. Under German law, copyright holders can ask internet service providers to disclose the name and address of the internet connection holder, and can then hold that individual financially liable for any illegal downloads that take place over that connection. This is why it’s especially difficult to find public Wi-Fi zones in Germany, since businesses do not want to be held accountable for customers downloading files illegally. Thousands of cease and desist letters are sent out every year to customers who have downloaded illegally, often requiring them to pay legal fees to settle the damages. However, it was revealed last year that law firms were exploiting customers by requesting the payment of extortionate legal fees. Legislation has since come in to limit the powers of law firms, which has led to a reduction in the number of letters being sent out.
NSA and Mass Surveillance
At the time of the Snowden revelations in 2013, the German newspaper Der Spiegel were among the notable media outlets that leaked Snowden’s claims. Following the leak, the German government were unsure as to whether to grant Snowden political asylum, though a Parliamentary Committee voted against it, allegedly because the US had threatened to restrict the intelligence it shares with Germany if they were to do so.
In the aftermath, the German government were outraged when it was alleged that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal mobile phone had been tapped as part of the NSA’s surveillance. Merkel said that spying “among friends” was “unacceptable” and likened the NSA to the Stasi’s notorious surveillance operations for the German Democratic Republic.
In early June this year it was revealed that the government had dropped the investigation into the tapping because of a lack of evidence. However, in June of last year, the office of federal prosecutor Harald Range said that “sufficient factual evidence exists that unknown members of the US intelligence services spied on the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel”. At the time of the accusation the Whitehouse failed to deny that tapping had taken place and US official seem reluctant to comply with requests from the German government for more information on NSA’s activities.
In August 2014, German’s intelligence agency itself came under scrutiny when it was alleged that they had tapped into the mobile phone of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton. At the time, unidentified government representatives said that phone call data had been collected by accident.
Germany’s ties with the NSA don’t finish there, however. In May this year, WikiLeaks released documents that suggest the German government had an active role in the NSA’s bulk data collection, including surveillance of German companies and citizens, an accusation that was denied by the German government. According to the documents, Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, conducted mass US-led surveillance in Belgium, France and other European countries. Among their primary targets were commercial companies, European politicians, and government institutions, including high-ranking officials at the French Foreign Ministry, the Elysee Palace, and the European Commission.
Among the leaked documents was a letter from the Germany Chancellory to Kai-Uwe Ricke, who was the CEO of the German communications company Deutsche Telekom AG from 2002 to 2006. The letter requested the help of Deutsche Telekom in Frankfurt to facilitate ongoing bulk surveillance of German and international internet and phone call data. Following the letter, the BND’s access to this data was approved and its correspondence with the NSA was pinpointed to this time.
It seems clear that Germany are far from innocent when it comes to mass surveillance programs, particularly given the affable public relationship between Merkel and Obama. It’s also clear that Snowden’s NSA revelations, and the aftermath, has had a lasting impact on German citizens, leaving behind much skepticism on how their privacy is treated by the government.
Best VPNs for Germany
Instead of laboring away for hours on end in a bid to keep up with current legislation, blocked sites, and repeatedly checking YouTube to see if the music video you want to see is available, it’s much easier to connect to an encrypted Germany-based VPN server. When connecting to an encrypted server, you can enjoy optimal internet performance without a substantial loss in your bandwidth. Once connected, the endpoint will immediately alter your computer or mobile device’s IP address to a shared IP, in essence changing your virtual location in Germany. Also, inbound and outbound traffic will be encrypted according to the level of encryption (protocols) you have chosen, making it impossible for an ISP to read your traffic. Below we have recommended six of our favorite VPN providers especially for Germany.
|Private Internet Access||Read Review
|CyberGhost VPN||Read Review
1. Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access (PIA) is a well regarded US-based VPN service. At the time of writing, the provider offers 59 anonymous servers throughout Germany. For security reasons, the company would not specify in which German locations it has placed nodes. What their website does specify is that this particular server cluster is capable of carrying bandwidth of up to 59,000 Mb/s. Furthermore, PIA offers a huge amount of VPN locations in the US, plus many more in Europe, including in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Romania, and Turkey.
PIA is significantly cheaper than most “mainstream” services, offering its 1-month VPN account for $6.95. The annual subscription is $39.95.
Pros: Very cheap; strong encryption; hosts large support forum; up to 5 simultaneous connections allowed.
Cons: No free trial available (though there is a 7-day moneyback guarantee)
2. CyberGhost VPN
CyberGhost was originally founded in Germany, until the company moved and set up its permanent headquarters in Romania. The service is operated by mostly Romanian specialists and is headed by charismatic CEO and co-founder Robert Knapp.
At the moment, CyberGhost boasts 65 servers in Germany, out of which 44 are premium. For this provider, the only country with more servers is the US. A large chunk of its clientele is based in Germany, while lots more European server locations are also available, including in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Denmark, UK, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Furthermore with regards to privacy, CyberGhost is one of the few VPN providers that publishes a detailed transparency report. The report outlines the number of received DMCA notices, police requests, and the number of incidents involving malicious activity with indication of the associated country. The majority of these incidents involve its native Germany, as well as the US, Romania and, more recently, the UK. The report is broken down by months, dating back to 2011 when CyberGhost first began.
The service supports OpenVPN (default in-app option), L2TP/IPSec and PPTP protocols. 256-bit AES encryption is used for the first two, while 128-bit keys are used by PPTP.
CyberGhost offers two premium packages – Premium and Premium Plus, which cost $6.99 and $10.99 per month respectively. The provider also offers a free service, though speeds are expected to be five times slower than on the premium subscription (source: CyberGhost website).
Cons: Desktop software can be heavy on the CPUs of slower computers.
For third place, we’ve picked IPVanish – a provider from the US that has a major network outreach and plenty of the core and bonus features you’d expect from a large VPN company. In Germany, the provider has 7 servers (currently), with 6 in Frankfurt and 1 in the eastern city of Dresden. There are also servers in neighbouring countries, including Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Austria, Luxembourg, and Czech Republic. Travellers can use other IPVanish nodes located in the Americas (north, central, and south), as well in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
IPVanish has bespoke app clients for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android devices, and will work on all platforms where VPNs are configurable. Encryption is handled through OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, IKEv2, or PPTP protocols. Neither traffic nor connection logs (user’s IP address and timestamp of connection) are collected. Customers can also utilise IPVanish’s own, private DNS servers to ensure that their IP address is not get exposed due to a DNS leak.
The service’s sole subscription plan costs $10 per month. Longer subscriptions are discounted, with three months costing $26.99, and one year $77.99.
Pros: Apps for all common operating systems; lots of server locations; good speeds.
Cons: Website does not offer live chat support.
4. Hide My Ass!
Hide My Ass! (HMA) is based in the UK, and also has offices in Belgrade, Serbia. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest VPN provider around. Its stature is attributed to its vast international network of VPN servers, which covers all populated continents, with whole clusters in key areas such as EU, USA, south-east Asia, Australia, as well as numerous endpoints in rare and remote locations.
At the time of writing, there are 28 HMA servers in Germany, including 6 in Munich, 8 in Nuremberg, 3 in Berlin, 2 in Dusseldorf, 8 in Frankfurt and 1 virtual Germany-based server, which runs through Atlanta in the US. In total, there are over 3,000 IP addresses being used in Germany alone.
HMA does not keep traffic logs, though it does record and store basic connection logs for two to three months. Although HMA is technically a UK-based company, where strict data retention laws apply, it does not store the above-mentioned connection logs locally, otherwise it would have to keep them on record for an entire year.
Users can choose from OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP protocols. OpenVPN uses 128-bit Blowfish-CBC encryption, while L2TP/IPSec uses 256-bit keys.
Windows, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS users can use HMA with standalone HMA applications. However, like the other providers in this list, HMA is manually configurable on all VPN-compatible platforms. HMA offers a free public proxy via their website, as well as a premium encrypted email service.
Pricing starts at $9.99 per month. The semi-annual subscription costs $49.99, while the yearly plan is $78.66.
Pros: Very large server network; apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
Cons: No 256-bit encryption with OpenVPN; torrenting not allowed or not encouraged.
PureVPN is based in Hong Kong and is currently one of the biggest international VPN providers in operation. At the time of writing, there are 54 Germany-based nodes, which are more or less equally spread across Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin. Most of Germany’s immediate neighbours are also covered.
To encrypt traffic, PureVPN uses OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSec, SSTP, or PPTP protocols. As with many other providers, OpenVPN is the default in-app protocol and uses AES 256-bit encryption keys. PureVPN offers its own custom-built clients/apps for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android operating systems.
PureVPN could also win over the support of TV streaming fans, as subscriptions come with its bundled smart DNS service, which offers access to a host of international channels and streaming services. Available German networks and services include Sky Deutschland, Myspass, DW, ZDF, Zattoo, Maxdome, and several more.
A basic monthly account will set you back $9.95, a 6-month subscription is $44.95, while an annual plan is $49.95. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that PureVPN allows up to 5 simultaneous device connections. Torrenting is allowed, but only on designated servers.
Pros: Large international server network; SmartDNS included in account; 5 simultaneous logins permitted.
Cons: In the past, users have reported that some Asia servers are not as fast as advertised.
Although VPN4ALL doesn’t usually get as many mentions as some of its counterparts listed above, we are inclined to include this provider in our list specifically for its speed, security, and the number of available servers in Germany. With 46 servers in total, VPN4ALL – a Seychelles-based company, has 18 active nodes in Marburg, 22 in Frankfurt, and 6 in Kassel. BitTorrent traffic is allowed, though only in selected locations; one of which includes the Frankfurt cluster. The majority of the servers are compatible with gigabit port speeds.
VPN4ALL offers custom-built clients for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android devices. It is also compatible with Linux, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and gaming devices. Encryption is available through OpenVPN and SSTP protocols, which apply AES 256-bit 2096 keys RSA. On mobile devices, VPN4ALL implements 128-bit keys with PPTP, IPSec, and IKEv2 protocols.
The provider has three subscription plans from which to choose. These include 50GB, Unlimited and Mobile. Indeed, it is quite surprising that there are still VPN companies offering such limited bandwidth allowance for a relatively high $7 per month, however, the Unlimited package accommodates for fans of mass downloads and streaming at $11.83 per month. For those users who only plan to run the VPN on their smartphones and tablets, the designated mobile package is a slightly cheaper alternative at $4.08 per month.
Pros: Strong encryption; strict no-log policy; company based in Seychelles; lots of servers in Germany.
Cons: Slightly ambiguous policy on allowed number of simultaneous connections (factually, one is allowed at a time); unlimited plan is quite pricey.