World from Berlin: Prism Spying 'Attacks Basic Civil Rights'

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Zoom
DPA/ NSA

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

The world has been scandalized to learn about Prism, the broad data surveillance program used by the US at home and abroad. German commentators say that both Berlin and Brussels must defend Europe from this invasion of privacy.

Revelations about a far-reaching intelligence program in the United States leaked last week aren't just causing problems for President Barack Obama at home. While American citizens are left wondering whether their privacy has been violated by the Internet and phone surveillance, officials abroad are expressing serious concerns too.

Germany, which has particularly strict data privacy laws, is reportedly one of the most heavily monitored countries in the surveillance program, and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger demanded an explanation on Tuesday. "The suspicion of excessive surveillance of communication is so alarming that it cannot be ignored," she wrote in an editorial for SPIEGEL ONLINE. "For that reason, openness and clarification by the US administration itself should be paramount at this point. All facts must be put on the table."

Merkel To Address Issue with Obama

The day before, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader would discuss the matter with President Obama when he makes his first state visit to Berlin as president later this month. Obama has defended the spying program as a "modest encroachment" on privacy.

German Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner has also called for "clear answers" from the companies implicated in the government document leak, and the Green Party demanded an immediate investigation by the German government.

"Total surveillance of all German citizens by the NSA is completely disproportionate," Volker Beck, secretary of the Green Party group in parliament, said on Monday.

Strong Reaction from Europe

European politicians are also worried about the surveillance, which the European Parliament planned to debate on Tuesday. Officials in Brussels reportedly plan to discuss the matter with US diplomats at a trans-Atlantic ministerial meeting later this week in Dublin.

"It would be unacceptable and would need swift action from the EU if indeed the US National Security Agency were processing European data without permission," Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian member of the European Parliament and a leader in the Alde group of liberal parties, told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

At issue is a large-scale, top-secret program, codenamed Prism, undertaken by the National Security Agency (NSA), an American foreign intelligence agency. It tracks suspicious messages from outside the United States that are transmitted through American providers such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Skype, including emails, phone numbers, videos, photos and other forms of online communication.

Details of the program were leaked by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA employee who worked as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton at the NSA. There he had access to the documents about the counterterrorism surveillance, which he gave to the Guardian and Washington Post before going into hiding in Hong Kong, where he revealed his identity on Sunday. US authorities are now reviewing whether Snowden can be prosecuted for what some politicians there have called a treasonous act.

The scandal has revealed state surveillance of a previously unimaginable scope by the US both at home and abroad, the latter of which is of particular concern to German commentators on Tuesday.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"It may be that US citizens can defend themselves under the US Constitution. But that doesn't apply to foreigners. Facebook users in Germany have as little protection from the US Constitution as those in Afghanistan. Germany is the country in Europe whose telephone and Internet communications are being spied on the most intensely by the US. ... But even the best rulings from Germany's high court are useless because the majority of the Internet's architecture is located in the US. As a consequence, US authorities have the power of access, and this is stronger than basic German rights."

"The NSA case shows the expansiveness of preventive security state logic. Those who want to prevent crimes and terrorism -- whatever the cost -- can never know enough, and will always try to find out more in the name of security. Under the reign of terrorism, the legal system is changing. To track down the 'bad guys,' the entire population is being spied on with sophisticated methods in which intelligence agencies, police and possibly private networks are all cooperating. The US is a pioneer in introducing an infrastructure of surveillance."

"The only good thing about the NSA spying is that it exposes the principle tenet of domestic security that has been used to justify the rebuilding of the security system since Sept. 11, 2001: That those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear. This is simply a stupid idea."

Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The chancellor's spokesman Steffen Seibert has now officially announced that Merkel will question Obama when he visits about the apparent systematic spying, particularly of German Internet users, by US intelligence. This is the least that citizens should expect. But more than that, the issue here is the protection of the federal government from total surveillance by a foreign state, no matter how friendly it may be."

"Germany has strict privacy laws -- even if many people now flaunt their data in a practically exhibitionist fashion on social networks. But that is their choice, after all. The federal government must explain what they intend to do about the immoderate and unwarranted clandestine surveillance of its citizens by American intelligence agencies. And whether the German services know about and possibly use this illegally acquired knowledge."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Basic civil rights around the world, which are taken for granted far too naively in Western democracies, are being placed under attack by state 'security architecture' such as the US spying program Prism. In Germany -- where the relatively recent examples of two totalitarian state systems mean that the consequences of state monitoring in the private sector are still in living memory -- three things must result from this: clarification of the situation, defense and self-protection."

"It is right that the opposition has called for a radical review by the governmnent. But it is already foreseeable that the questions about what German intelligence knew will be rejected under the usual pretexts. The most popular argument is that the government best decides alone what kind of surveillance doesn't harm the public. Obama makes a similar argument about the need for monitoring measures by his intelligence agencies. But the German government shouldn't make the same argument. It may sound utopian, but it would be appropriate to offer fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden political asylum in Germany."

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Whether it's with Facebook, Google, Yahoo or Microsoft -- user confidence has been shaken. According to statements made by the source of the revelations, Snowden, all users should be asking whether they themselves, and especially their personal data, are in good hands with these companies."

"For years, German Internet providers have complained among themselves about the tough data protection laws to which they are subject in the European Union. At the same time, they looked enviously at their American counterparts, who are obviously subject to very flexible data protection rules. But these days could be over now. European providers should take advantage of their data protection requirements as a unique selling point."

"But not all consumers are responsible enough to consciously choose services with strict privacy policies -- many are far too complacent for that. And herein lies a challenge for European policy, which should reconsider agreements with the US such as the 'Safe Harbor' data protection program in light of recent events. It says that European companies can transfer personal data from their own customers to America without hesitation -- because until now the country was considered safe. Even if customers are not affected by the current scandal, this much is clear: America is no longer quite as secure as a secure data port."

-- Kristen Allen

Article...
  • For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.
  • Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
6 total posts
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1. Snowden & political asylum
rafael 06/11/2013
It may sound utopian, but it would be appropriate to offer fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden political asylum in Germany." It is commendable that Die Tageszeitung would suggest as appropriate (although not all that brave a statement); but is it not tragic to degrade it a'priori as utopistic! If Germany does believe that what Snowden did is a worthy cause, lacking courage to say so and stand for, is an act of cowardice.
2.
nelsonwarner 06/11/2013
If this is a "basic" civil right, I would not like to see the complete list. I live in New York. Is my right not to be blown up by a terrorist on the list?
3. prism aka big brother
barchen36 06/11/2013
'Ey, the possibilities of my entries passing the board are 1,000,000,000 to the millionth power, but I still do it. This is happening in the United States, under the leadership of the European worshiped great one. A tad bit of megalomania that has been resurrected because of his not being able to play with either race as a child, comes out as an adult. It is strange that he is not remembered in any of the schools that he allegedly went to. This is not only from students, but also professors AND nothing in the year books! Ask yourself,why would a 'licensed' lawyer have to surrender his (and she is in the same boat) license to the state? Doubt this, check it out. He is 'not' the president, but a puppet following orders. Ask how someone, who has no money - all of a sudden has a mega amount? PRISM is his wish to keep his backers informed of who, what, when and where something is going to happen. Tschuess bis spaeter.
4. Cleaning up the NSA Remnants
fung.pee 06/12/2013
Perhaps Ms. Merkel can have Obama arrange a cleanup crew to remove the mess left behind by the NSA at Teufelsberg, near Berlin. Another matter she should raise is the raison d'etre of Menworth Hill, in North Yorkshire near Harrowgate, England. It is appropriate to raise this matter since it's prime activity is intercepting Euro communications and the 50-year lease is about to terminate.
5. Prism
jafis 06/13/2013
If the German intelligence service and government had no general knowledge of the existence of this level of US capability, they are not very good at intelligence.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from World section
RSS

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH




Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: High-Tech Spies at the NSA
Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: Whistleblower on the Run


European Partners
Presseurop

Politiken

Corriere della Sera

Catia and the Migrants

Child Porn Found Former Nuncio’s Computer


Facebook
Twitter