SPIEGEL Interview with German Interior Minister 'WikiLeaks Is Annoying, But Not a Threat'


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Part 2: 'I Stand for a Strong State'

SPIEGEL: In 1998, the German Constitutional Court ruled that the German government is not allowed to have a nationwide police force because, according to the constitution, the individual German states are responsible for police matters. (Editor's note: The current federal police force is actually the former federal border police force, which was given new assignments after the introduction of the borderless Schengen Area.)

De Maizière: I don't want to be granted any new powers or authority -- I only want the police that we now have, to be organized differently with their current powers and authority. My interior minister colleagues should have taken a look at this instead of immediately launching into a tirade. You don't openly criticize members of your family in public. I personally follow that principle. Unfortunately, it was mainly the conservative state-level interior ministers who were particularly vocal in their criticism …

SPIEGEL: ... the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, for example, and the interior minister of lower Saxony, Uwe Schünemann. Your colleagues among the conservatives expect you to show some muscle.

De Maizière: Showing strength is different than showing muscle. I stand for a strong state that safeguards freedom. I don't need to show muscle for that.

SPIEGEL: People at the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) seem to be in something a state of shock ever since the reform plans were announced. Why did you choose the worst imaginable moment to introduce your plans?

De Maizière: The terror situation is currently difficult, and it will be that way a year from now as well. I expect police officers to behave professionally -- after all, we specifically intend to bolster the BKA. With terrorism and crime increasing internationally, the right response, especially now, is a BKA with enhanced expertise in the area of organized crime. Collaboration between the BKA and the federal police could be improved. There are not enough joint tactics, not enough joint investigations -- there is not enough information shared. That just won't do. We will significantly expand our international investigations with the reform.

SPIEGEL: So you have already made up your mind?

De Maizière: No. I will now speak with the agencies involved, and with the states, and come to a decision in the spring. Immediately thereafter the reform will be implemented.

SPIEGEL: A major breakthrough would be a merger of the BKA and the federal police with the Customs Criminological Office. But you apparently didn't have the courage for that.

De Maizière: You know, I hear from some people that the reform is too big, and from others that it is too small.

SPIEGEL: In reality, you are avoiding any conflict with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who is responsible for customs.

De Maizière: That is nonsense. You can assume that Schäuble and I work very closely together. But you can also fill your backpack so full with rocks that you can no longer walk. It might be brilliantly packed, but you have lost all mobility.

SPIEGEL: We would like to talk with you about WikiLeaks. Is the organization a threat to democracy or does it enrich it?

De Maizière: WikiLeaks is irritating and annoying for Germany, but not a threat. From an international perspective, I see their actions as totally irresponsible. One might also ask, however, if a government is acting intelligently when it organizes its entire diplomatic correspondence on a network that can be accessed by 2.5 million people. I have my doubts, though, about total transparency being a basic human right. Governments also have to be able to communicate confidentially. Confidentiality and transparency are not mutually exclusive, but rather two sides of the same coin.

SPIEGEL: WikiLeaks is ultimately part of the system of checks and balances that exist in a democratic society. What do you see as the difference between it and media players such as SPIEGEL?

De Maizière: The media do not demand total access and total transparency. They are delighted, of course, when they get hold of classified documents. But journalists would not argue on the basis of political theory that there should be no more government secrets whatsoever. That is not even what SPIEGEL advocates -- but WikiLeaks does, and that is wrong. I think it is disquieting that those who live in a shadowy cyber world, of all people, demand total transparency from others.

SPIEGEL: The outrage has a lot to do with being on the receiving end. If the disclosures had to do with Burma, Russia or China, most critics would applaud the organization.

De Maizière: As long as we are talking about checks and balances, I would actually prefer it if WikiLeaks focused less on transparent and open Western democracies and more on the world's dictatorships and oppressive regimes. Then it could at least have a genuine informative purpose.

SPIEGEL: That is what WikiLeaks has done, for example, in Kenya, Somalia, China and Thailand.

De Maizière: I am all for that. Unfortunately, the most recent leaks were different. I stand by what I said, though: Communicating in confidentiality is a prerequisite for effective governance.

SPIEGEL: Then the first person you should complain to is US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who violated this confidentiality by ordering American diplomats to spy on officials at the United Nations.

De Maizière: I was astounded when I read that.

SPIEGEL: Does WikiLeaks enjoy freedom of speech?

De Maizière: Yes, but not without limits. It is bound to general laws, and even press organs do not have freedom without responsibility. That may sound like a naïve appeal, but the principle of responsibility applies to everyone.

SPIEGEL: Is it acceptable that Amazon, PayPal and others boycott WikiLeaks?

De Maizière: If this occurs under pressure from the US government, I don't think it is acceptable. If a company freely decides to do so, then that is a corporate decision, but it is also politically problematic. I am a big advocate of what is known as net neutrality. This means that providers are compelled to transmit content without political or commercial pre-selection.

SPIEGEL: Then you should now show your solidarity with WikiLeaks because it is precisely this net neutrality that is being violated when the French minister of industry calls for blocking all WikiLeaks content.

De Maizière: Such bans effectively lead us to difficult issues that we will have to deal with for years to come. And, at some point in time, it also has to do with freedom of speech. This debate ranks among the most challenging Internet-related issues that I see on the horizon.

SPIEGEL: The government could legally regulate net neutrality.

De Maizière: That is difficult. The Internet is a modern infrastructure that plays a key role in the future of the state, our freedom and the economy. When it comes to other infrastructures such as electricity and water, the state has to ensure that these services are provided. But what does that mean when the state also has this responsibility with regard to the Internet? After all, you cannot protect something without intervening on some level. My main concern, though, is that we will soon criticize the state because it cannot live up to its protective function with regard to its citizens on the Internet -- and I'm much less concerned that we will intervene too much or too heavy handedly. From my perspective, the state has to assume responsibility for the integrity of international communications.

SPIEGEL: And how should it do that? Up until now, Germany has had the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) in Bonn.

De Maizière: If we see the Internet as a critical infrastructure, then we have to take a totally different approach. Indeed, service disruptions have to be avoided or at least resolved as quickly as possible. When the Internet goes down, consumers don't notice the difference between a technical malfunction, an act of sabotage by hackers or a military attack.

SPIEGEL: Are you planning some kind of cyber-sentinel?

De Maizière: We urgently need a national cyber-defense center to monitor the security and integrity of the Internet and endeavor to safeguard it -- under the leadership of the German Interior Ministry. The BSI will play an important role here, but we also have to involve large private Internet providers, who are chiefly responsible for operating this infrastructure.

SPIEGEL: There are apparently government interests behind many attacks, such as the use of spy software.

De Maizière: This is true, a number of attacks come from other states. But it is not readily recognizable based on the type of attack. A military aircraft has an identification number, the law of armed conflict applies here, and there are rules for all these things. But in this case the actual attacker is lurking in the shadows. That is why the planned defense center is so important. We are now going to closely consult on this within the German government, including with the Defense Ministry.

SPIEGEL: Now you are finally seizing an opportunity to fulfill your dream of finding new areas for the Bundeswehr, this time on the Internet.

De Maizière: No. I see no constitutional problems with the identification, staving off and defusing of outside threats. But it is true that we are generally going to encounter political, technical and legal limitations here, also in terms of interior and defense policies.

SPIEGEL: Minister de Maizière, we thank you for this interview.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


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