Germans are so scared of surveillance they microwave their ID cards - The Washington Post

When it comes to privacy, Germans can’t take a joke. After it was revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency had intercepted calls in Germany, sales of old-school typewriters were reported to have skyrocketed, as some Germans assumed that sending letters might make communications surveillance harder for U.S. officials.

It’s not only American surveillance that Germans are concerned about, however. On Tuesday, a 29-year old man was arrested at Frankfurt Airport after authorities noticed that he had microwaved his German identification card, reported German news agency dpa.

According to a police statement, the man was concerned that his privacy might be violated by the microchip that has been embedded in all German IDs since 2010. The man now faces either a fine or time in jail for the offense of illegally modifying official documents. According to German law, identification documents are state property.

Microwaving one’s I.D. is in fact not as uncommon as one would expect. Here's a video of a literally exploding German identification document.

Another video tutorial on how to properly boil identification papers, which was uploaded to YouTube in 2011, has so far been viewed by over 200,000 people.

Although the video’s creators note in the introduction that they do not want to encourage viewers to commit crimes, their detailed description suggests otherwise. Many commentators appeared to agree that it is necessary to microwave German ID cards in order to prevent being spied on.

A user named "Mister Vegan" asked about the specifics of the boiling and was swiftly advised to heat the documents up for about three seconds. Another commentator suggested to not only microwave the chip but also get rid of the complete I.D. card as it seemed “useless” to him.

German officials were aware of the strong public backlash against the microchip IDs even before they were first issued. In 2010, a governmental survey came to the conclusion that it would “take ten years for the document to establish itself.” Although several studies have refuted concerns that the microchip could be used to spy on individuals, many Germans remain cautious. Not everyone is willing to use the microchip, which would enable them to fill out online formulas much faster.

Skepticism of state authorities is deeply entrenched in German society: In June, activists inaugurated an Edward Snowden Square in the eastern German city of Dresden. Snowden had for instance revealed that the NSA had spied on German telecommunications data two years ago, and many Germans suspect their own intelligence services to have collaborated with their American counterparts.

"Much of this can be explained historically," Edward Snowden Square creator Markwart Faussner told WorldViews in June. "Germans have experienced observation throughout the 20th century. After the Nazi era, the Stasi intelligence service in the former East Germany monitored most of the country's citizens. When the Berlin Wall fell, East Germans suddenly found out from official government files that their friends or even family members had spied on them for years or decades. Hence, there is still a deeply rooted suspicion of state authorities in Germany,” Faussner explained.

In a 2014 survey, nearly 40 percent of Germans said they considered increasing digitalization and the role of intelligence services to be a threat.

Not everyone who tampers with their ID card is arrested, however. A 2010 news segment on public TV network WDR, for instance, showed students destroying ID microchips with a similar method as part of a physics course – without being arrested.

More on WorldViews:

The global cult of Edward Snowden keeps growing

Germans don’t think America stands for freedom anymore

Rick Noack writes about foreign affairs and is based in Europe.