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Anti-surveillance activists claim they set fire outside German institute developing Covid-19 tracking app

Left-wing activists aiming to prevent mass surveillance via the ‘Corona App’ claim they caused a fire outside Berlin’s telecommunications institute, which is developing software designed to track the spread of the disease.

Several power and telecommunication cables were badly damaged during the fire at a construction site in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district on Tuesday morning, outside the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications. The fire caused a temporary power outage on adjacent streets, and police are investigating the incident as a suspected arsonist attack.

A letter has since been sent to a number of German media outlets and has appeared online, in which the left-wing ‘Volcano Group’ claims responsibility, saying they targeted the nearby institute, also known as the Heinrich Hertz Institute (IHH), which is currently working on an app to track the spread of Covid-19.

The attack was committed to “stop any further weakening of fundamental rights and the expansion of surveillance measures,” the lengthy letter said, alleging that, in the current circumstances, it is impossible to guarantee that the ‘Corona App’ will not be used for spying on German citizens.

The authors further described fears that the government’s strict anti-coronavirus actions may threaten human rights and freedoms, comparing the term ‘social distancing’ to terms from dystopian novels by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

The police said that they are aware of the letter and are currently checking whether it is connected to the fire.

The German government announced plans to develop a Covid-19 tracking app earlier this month. The news has been met with some concern and skepticism online. While European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiorowski called for the creation of a pan-European model tracking app, he warned that such an app must not violate “fundamental rights of individuals.”

Header: A nurse during a visit to the university clinics Giessen and Marburg in Giessen, Germany, on April 14, 2020 © AFP / Pool / Frank Rumpenhorst