It looks like telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom may not have been the only German mega-company to have hired an outside detective agency to spy on its employees. On Tuesday, the financial daily Handelsblatt quoted sources alleging that German national railway Deutsche Bahn conducted similar practices using the same company contracted by Telekom.
A spokesperson for Deutsche Bahn told the paper that the company had a business relationship with the detective agency Network Deutschland GmbH, one of the companies Telekom had hired to sort through telephone records looking for contacts between journalists and supervisory board members. The Bahn spokesperson, however, said that no illegal activity had taken place.
"As part of our fight against corruption, which we have been pursuing energetically for years, we have in some cases taken advantage of the services of external experts within the framework of the law," the spokesperson told Handelsblatt.
The company Network Deutschland was hired by Telekom for a year-long period from 2005 to 2006 in an effort to find out how information was leaking out of management circles into the press. Company head Ralph Kühn has admitted going through journalists' telephone data to find their sources.
A computer expert working for a Network Deutschland subcontractor told Handelsblatt that the work performed on behalf of Deutsche Bahn was similar. The telephone data of those targeted in the investigations was combed through to see who they may have had contact with. According to the paper, the spy work was not commissioned by the company's security division. Rather, the contract came from a department under the direct control of CEO Hartmut Mehdorn.
Even if the spying at Deutsche Bahn was legal, the allegations raise new questions about data protection at Deutsche Telekom, given that Kühn's company was able to obtain the telephone records of Deutsche Bahn for the purposes of the investigation. According to Handelsblatt sources identified only as "computer specialists," Kühn enjoyed easy access to telephone data.
Last week, the authorities launched an investigation into Deutsche Telekom, including former CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke and former supervisory board head Klaus Zumwinkel, after the company admitted to spying on employees and journalists following a SPIEGEL exposé that revealed the company's practices. Further allegations emerged last week that the company may have used hidden cameras to spy on journalists as far back as 2000 -- and that it may have hired a company founded by a former spy for the infamous East German intelligence agency Stasi.
Telekom CEO Rene Obermann has promised to assist German authorities as they investigate the company, though he himself may not emerge unsullied from the scandal. Reports indicate that one of the bills paid to a detective agency involved in the spying was approved shortly after Obermann took over control of the company in 2006.