As It Happens

Massive German data hack 'a scary moment for our democracy,' says affected MP

German MP Franziska Brantner just found out that hackers published her personal phone number and home address online — and she's one of the lucky ones.

Breach hit politicians at all levels and other public figures — except far-right Alternative for Germany party

Franziska Brantner is one of the German MPs affected by a massive data breach linked to an anonymous Twitter account. (Hayong Jeon/EPA-EFE)

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German MP Franziska Brantner just found out that hackers published her personal phone number and home address online — and she's one of the lucky ones.

Personal data and documents on hundreds of German politicians and other public figures were published on a now-suspended Twitter account, including banking information and private messages detailing some of the most intimate details of their personal lives. 

It appears that information on politicians from all parties in parliament except the far-right Alternative for Germany had been shared in daily batches before Christmas.

The Green Party's Brantner was among those affected. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. Here is part of their conversation. 

How did it feel for you when you looked online and realized that this information had been released to the public and anyone could see it?

It's scary because you wonder what else do they know, and what do they want to know with the data, and who are they going to blackmail?

It's a scary moment for our democracy.

Does this create concern for you about your family at all?

I find it worrying that people now know my private home address and can find not just me, but also my daughter. And, yeah, that's my private life. You know, it should be protected. 

You can easily change a phone number, but you can't just easily change your home.

It is scary because we have a lot of haters and people writing us and contacting us and hating us for defending an open society, and you never know what they will do next if they radicalize.

A close-up view of the Twitter account 'G0d' (@_0rbit) in Berlin, which shared private information about German officials. The account has since been suspended. (Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE)

Can you give us an idea of the kinds of information that has been released from some of the other German politicians?

Those who have been worst hit, they had their IDs, their entire IDs, online. They have their entire bank records for the last two years online, their Visa card, what they bought is online. They have communication via Twitter and Facebook online.

That's really, really scary.

What could it mean to some of the people who have had these, you know, very personal messages put in the public domain?

We are all human beings as politicians. And we of course are public figures, but we still have a private life.

I don't know how anybody can do that.

I think our German state has to do everything possible to find the people behind those hacks and hold them to account.

We have to do that to defend our democracy because who will ever be willing to run for politician again if that's the daily risk you have?

The German news agency dpa reported that the information included a fax number and email address belonging to Angela Merkel and several letters to and from the chancellor. (Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE)

What do you know about how the hackers actually got the information?

They have been collecting that information for a very long time and have been, you know, not doing it all at once because then we would have noticed it.

And then they added fake news to it, which just makes it even worse, because part of the data they put out for some of my colleagues, the substance isn't even true.

So the information has been coming out gradually over the course of the last month or so on a Twitter account. Why didn't somebody notice? Because it took some weeks before that happened and it's just now been stopped.

These are questions we're raising to our security services. We were made aware of it by members of our party who came across a Twitter account, then contacted us.

Then we contacted ... the security services, but that should be the other way around.

The hack seems to have affected people across party lines and, in fact, the only party not affected is the Alternative for Germany party, which is the right far-right party in your country. Does that give you some clue as to the political leanings of who's behind this?

The first thought, of course, everybody is like oh OK, then it comes from their side. But on the other side, it's so obvious and almost you can't believe it, that anybody would be so silly to make it that obvious.

So we are not yet drawing any conclusion on where it comes from.

Some journalists are saying they won't report the potentially salacious details that they come across ... but how concerned are you and your political colleagues about these kind of details being out there in terms of dealing with the people around you and your constituents?

You never know what else they still have and when they might bring it out. That's the scary part about it.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.