Anglo-Saxon Spies: German National Security Is at Stake

A Commentary by Jakob Augstein

A GCHQ facility at Menwith Hill in northern England: "Worse than the United States" Zoom
REUTERS

A GCHQ facility at Menwith Hill in northern England: "Worse than the United States"

Overzealous data collectors in the US and Great Britain have no right to investigate German citizens. The German government must protect people from unauthorized access by foreign intelligence agencies, and it must act now. This is a matter of national security.

"Germany's security is also being defended in the Hindu Kush, too," Peter Struck, who was Germany's defense minister at the time, said in 2002. If that's true, then the government should also be expected to defend the security of its people at their own doorstep. Because the massive sniffing out and saving of data of all kinds -- that of citizens and businesses, newspapers, political parties, government agencies -- is in the end just that: a question of security. It is about the principles of the rule of law. And it is a matter of national security.

We live in changing times. At the beginning of last week, we thought after the announcement of the American Prism program, that US President Barack Obama was the sole boss of the largest and most extensive control system in human history. That was an error.

Since Friday, we have known that the British intelligence agency GCHQ is "worse than the United States." Those are the words of Edward Snowden, the IT expert who uncovered the most serious surveillance scandal of all time. American and British intelligence agencies are monitoring all communication data. And what does our chancellor do? She says: "The Internet is uncharted territory for us all."

That's not enough. In the coming weeks, the German government needs to show that it is bound to its citizens and not to an intelligence-industrial complex that abuses our entire lives as some kind of data mine. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger hit the right note when she said she was shocked by this "Hollywood-style nightmare."

An Uncanny Alliance

We have Edward Snowden to thank for this insight into the interaction of an uncanny club, the Alliance of Five Eyes. Since World War II, the five Anglo-Saxon countries of Great Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have maintained close intelligence cooperation, which apparently has gotten completely out of control.

It may be up to the Americans and the British to decide how they handle questions of freedom and the protection of their citizens from government intrusion. But they have no right to subject the citizens of other countries to their control. The shoulder-shrugging explanation by Washington and London that they have operated within the law is absurd. They are not our laws. We didn't make them. We shouldn't be subject to them.

The totalitarianism of the security mindset protects itself with a sentence: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. But firstly, that contains a presumption: We have not asked the NSA and GCHQ to "protect" us. And secondly, the sentence is a stupid one: Because we all have something to hide, whether it pertains to our private lives or to our business secrets.

No Agency Should Collect So Much Data

Thus the data scandal doesn't pertain just to our legal principles, but to our security as well. We were lucky that Edward Snowden, who revealed the spying to the entire world, is not a criminal, but an idealist. He wanted to warn the world, not blackmail it. But he could have used his information for criminal purposes, as well. His case proves that no agency in the world can guarantee the security of the data it collects -- which is why no agency should collect data in such abundance in the first place.

That is the well-known paradox of totalitarian security policy. Our security is jeopardized by the very actions that are supposed to protect it.

So what should happen now? European institutions must take control of the data infrastructure and ensure its protection. The freedom of data traffic is just as important as the European freedom of exchange in goods, services and money. But above all, the practices of the Americans and British must come to an end. Immediately.

It is the responsibility of the German government to see to it that the programs of the NSA and GCHQ no longer process the data of German citizens and companies without giving them the opportunity for legal defense. A government that cannot make that assurance is failing in one of its fundamental obligations: to protect its own citizens from the grasp of foreign powers.

Germans should closely observe how Angela Merkel now behaves. And if the opposition Social Democrats and Green Party are still looking for a campaign issue, they need look no further.

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1. Long Time Coming
peterboyle.4848 06/24/2013
Snowden just reveiled what we have 'known' for a long time; our government is spying on us all the time. It started with CARNIVOR in the 70's which monitored all telephone communications. Then came ECHELON which did the same for internet communications. Now both are rolled into PRISM. Considering what has happened to other whistle bolowers in teh US, Snowden did the patriotic thing in disclosing what the government is doing, and the self protective thing in doing so from safety. The hypocricy of the US denounciations of other countries for keeping secret files on it's citizens and monitoring their every communication, all legal through Secret Courts is now exposed for the thing it is - HYPOCRICY. Same with recent protestations about CHina and Russia hacking American computers and stealing data, the US has been doing the same things on an even grander scale and for much longer. Remember STUXNET? In truth, it will take the UN to set in place strict rules for all countries - but wait. the US is among the 5 countries who can veto anything like that. No law made by Germany can or will protect German citizens from this kind of snooping. Like nuclear weapons, the geni can not be put back in the bottle. Neither can we trust our governments or politicians to do the 'right' thing when they each have a grandoise conviction that only they know the 'right thing to do'. Let's face it. From the CCTV cameras that seem to be sprouting everywhere, to this revelation that all your communications, physical whereabouts and travels on the net are subject to snooping by any one of several 'interested parties'. That is the new reality and I'm curious how we will all deal with that.
2.
spon-facebook-10000139396 06/24/2013
And if a 9/11 or a 7/7 happens in Berlin you will have yourselves to blame.
3. Security
chris@drakemarine.co.uk 06/24/2013
This piece is just so much idealistic claptrap. Since the height of the cold war, Germany and other European States have relied on Britain, The US and to a much lesser extent France to defend their countries without contributing too much themselves. Most recently this is perfectly demonstrated by the situation in Afghanistan and earlier in the Balkans. There, while British and US troops have been getting killed and wounded, Germany mostly refuses to allow it's troops into harm's way. GCHQ and the NSA have been listening to European transatlantic phone calls and radio traffic for more than 40 years. The Internet is just a different medium for the same traffic. The threat from Islamic extremists to the average European citizen is at least as real as that posed by the Cold War. The US and the UK are not spying on ordinary citizens. Physically they can only be looking at a miniscule proportion of the data traffic passing across the Atlantic via Fibre Optic cable. Anything that threatens German security is almost certainly passed on to Berlin. If Germany wants to stop this happening they will need to fund their own completely independent Internet service and make it 100% secure. Thinking about it, why not get Barroso and Co onto it ? : This could be the perfect EU Grand Project to follow the huge sums wasted on Gallileo. Why not put the cost before the German population and see what they think : I bet they will be just as keen to finance it as they are to throw even more of their hard earned cash into the bottomless pit that is Greece, Spain and Cyprus. The reality is that when faced with the alternative, the average German citizen won't care. Get real, Jakob.
4. optional
nblazek 06/24/2013
Strange article. The Spiegel usually condemns libertarian tea party types and now they celebrate Mr. Snowden as an idealist. The Spiegel is hypocritical in its writing.
5.
p-hom 06/24/2013
"They are not our laws. We didn't make them. We shouldn't be subject to them" this is the way we english feel about the European laws affecting us in the UK
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