Required by law

German lawyers demand access to source code of ‘special electronic mailbox’


A growing number of lawyers and the Berlin Bar Association are supporting a call to make publicly available the source code of the ‘besondere elektronisches Anwaltspostfach’ (special electronic mailbox for lawyers, or beA).

The petition calls on Germany’s Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer (Federal Bar Association, or BRAK) to publish the beA software under a free and open source software licence and open the software development process. “Only in this way can it slowly restore the trust of the users – all lawyers, authorities and courts,” the petition says.

Use of the beA electronic mailbox is mandatory for lawyers as of this year. However, the service is plagued by security vulnerabilities and technical problems, the petitioners say. The service has been unavailable since December.

One of the supporters of the petition is the ‘Arbeitsgemeinschaft IT-Recht’ (Information Technology section) of the German Association of Lawyers (DAVIT). “We are committed to an open and clear information policy on the application of beA,” DAVIT quotes its chairwoman, lawyer Dr. Astrid Auer-Reinsdorff, as saying. “This transparency also includes source code transparency.”

Security audit

The number of regional bar assocations - members of BRAK - supporting the petition will grow rapidly, says attorney Michael Schinagl. He has been trying to convince colleagues across the country to support the appeal he successfully made to the Berlin Bar Association. It calls for an in-depth security audit of the beA software, and for the support for multiple PC operating systems.

“Liberal professions cannot be pressed into an insecure ‘digital corset’,” Schinagl told the Open Source Observatory (OSOR). “Full support for free software is a minimum requirement in an obligatory system. The BRAK always promised that, but so far it has provided support only for outdated versions of Linux that nobody can use responsibly.”

In his copyright practice, Schinagl uses and promotes open source software solutions. He is legal council to and a member of the board of trustees (Kuratorium) of the Document Foundation - the NGO behind the development of LibreOffice, a free and open source suite of office productivity tools.

Last week, the BRAK announced support for GNU/Linux Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and other operating systems. The organisation told Schinagl that it is considering the publication of the source code. “As long as the BRAK does not formally promise continuing support for free software, the petitioners will not rest,” Schinagl said.

More information:

Blog by attorney-at-law Michael Schinagl (in German)
Spiegel news item (in German)
Golem news item (in German)
Information Technology section of the German Association of Lawyers (DAVIT) news item (in German)
Heise news item (in German)

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