Germany’s biggest cybercriminal court case has begun amid widespread media frenzy and a COVID-19-controlled state of the country.
The eight defendants who stood trial have been identified to be four Dutch nationals, three locals, and one Bulgarian citizen – the accused persons are reported to be former operators of a “cyberbunker” data center that has become the center of major controversy surrounding the use German data protection regulations and law enforcement.
The alleged “cyberbunker” happens to be a huge structure that was set up in a disused military bunker during the Cold War era. Intended to serve as a NATO command center, the site is located on a hill overlooking a small town called Traben Trarbach.
The defendants are being charged with facilitating dark web criminal activity by helping threat actors facilitate their illegal sale of drugs, hitman services, money laundering services, and child sex abuse material.
So far, Johan X has been identified as a mastermind in the large scale establishment that played host to the now-defunct Wall Street Market, which had grown to become the second largest darknet marketplace for illicit goods until its eventual seizure by law enforcement.
Sometime in September 2019, a major law enforcement operation – which had spanned almost five years – descended on the disused Cold War era bunker and shut it down, with its operators being placed in police custody.
On breaching the construction, which was a 5,000-square-meter bunker with reinforced doors, the agents exposed a “bulletproof hosting” service provider – a business that offers the technical infrastructure needed to shield a criminal enterprise from law enforcement interference.
The seizure yielded 200 servers, including documents, gadgets, and massive amounts of money. The operation, which is reported to have been the first time that German law enforcement had taken down a bulletproof hoster, lifted the lid on the defendants’ dark web involvement.
The police cracked the servers to reveal several online platforms that were created to enable the illicit sale of drugs, weapons, child sex abuse material, and stolen data.
Consequently, 13 suspects, aged between 20 and 59, were apprehended on charges of being involved in the illicit operation. The project’s mastermind was identified as a 59-year-old Dutch national with connections to criminal networks back in the Netherlands.
It is reported that the ringleader created the server in the German town seven years ago, while his official residency had been listed in Singapore.
The Legal Challenge
Considering that this trial is expected to last more than a year, the prosecution believes that the trial is set to redefine German laws as far as its applicability to data privacy is concerned.
As it stands, investigators are still studying contents of the several physical and virtual servers that were recovered at the “cyberbunker”. The possibility that the defendants’ service host provider may not have been aware of their customers’ illicit activity is very high.
Although the court may provide proof that Johan X and his accomplices are indeed guilty, the question about whether their service provider bore any right to act on possible knowledge of their online activity remains.
Point is, German data protection laws happen to be among the strictest in comparison to other global jurisdictions. A good example is the manner in which electronic payment methods have been treated due to concerns about possible data mining.
It is therefore likely that the “cyberbunker” case offers new legal frontiers that may influence reexamination of data-related rules and regulations.
The complexity of the case suggests that trial will extend till end of next year as the prosecution team studies the plethora of court charges that have been raised against the accused persons.