Will Using Typewriters Keep Germany Safe From U.S. Spying?

In light of U.S. spying scandals, a German investigator says his committee is going old school, but are typewriters any safer than email?
Posted at 8:13 PM, Jul 15, 2014

German officials are so worried about U.S. spying, they're apparently going back to typewriters. (Via Etan J. Tal / CC BY 3.0)

Patrick Sensburg is Germany's head investigator on CIA and NSA spying. He told a German news program that his committee is moving away from electronic communications and using typewriters instead — and he was totally serious about it. (Via Getty Images, Das Erste / "Morgenmagazin")

It's understandable his committee is trying to be extra cautious. It was at the heart of a double agent scandal earlier this month when a German official was arrested for passing information on the committee to the CIA.

They might be going a little overboard, though. A German newspaper reported this week that the committee has started kicking off its meetings by having everyone put their phones in a metal box and cranking up classical music to mask the conversation from listening devices. (Via Die Welt, U.S. Library of Congress)

But they also aren't the first to see going old school as the best way to counter electronic spying.

A Russian paper reported last year that the countries security service had ordered 20 mechanical typewriters in response to Edward Snowden's leaks on the NSA. (Via Izvestia)

But will it work? Declassified NSA documents show that bugging typewriters was all the rage back in the Cold War, so we know spy agencies have plenty of practice at this sort of thing.

But unlike electronic data collection, bugging a typewriter requires someone to actually go and put the bug in, so at the very least it's a lot less convenient for the spies. (Via Wikimedia Commons / X570)

Still, with one double agent arrested and another under investigation in Germany, it's become pretty clear that technology isn't the country's weak point.

As a writer for The Telegraph puts it, "Rather than snooping on data, cracking safes or deciphering the sound of key strokes, it seems easiest for the NSA and CIA to simply pay German officials to hand the information over."

Still, it's nice to see a little James Bond-era cloak and dagger back in the spying game.