German people to jealously guard internet privacy

Continuing revelations, based on documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, of sweeping American digital surveillance around the world are rattling the close ties between the United States and Germany.
  In a country scarred by Nazi and Communist pasts, the issue is prompting not just a debate about privacy and data protection, but also demands from German officials that the Berlin-Washington security partnership be put on a new footing.

 The latest of the Snowden revelations came on Sunday, when the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published a report, citing documents Mr. Snowden obtained while he worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency, that said the agency had succeeded in tapping into videoconferences at the United Nations in New York, into the European Union’s mission to the United Nations, and into other diplomatic missions around the world.

Evidence that the United States has been spying extensively on its allies as well as on its enemies has been among the most significant revelations from Mr. Snowden, along with widespread government surveillance of the telephone and digital communications of American citizens without warrants.

Top German officials traveled to Washington this month to press an unusual demand: to negotiate a new formal agreement with the United States that neither side will spy on the other.

The initiative was confirmed in two sittings of the German parliamentary committee in charge of overseeing the country’s intelligence agencies. Ronald Pofalla, who runs Ms. Merkel’s Chancellery, told the committee on Aug. 12 that the two countries were working on just such an agreement. He gave no details.

But in the eyes of a skeptical, privacy-minded German public, at least, Der Spiegel’s report may have undercut the significance of the proposed accord by noting that the eavesdropping described in the Snowden documents would have violated agreements that the United States has made.

The report said that the N.S.A. succeeded last year in cracking an encrypted video teleconferencing system at the United Nations, and even stumbled across Chinese spies who were apparently invading the same communications system. The magazine also published a floor plan, evidently from N.S.A. files, of the third floor of the European mission to the United Nations on Third Avenue in New York, showing the locations of offices and computer servers. Der Spiegel suggested that the spying on allies and the United Nations made President Obama’s defense of surveillance programs as a counterterrorism effort seem misleading at best.

Der Spiegel, citing documents obtained through Mr. Snowden, reported that American intelligence agencies regularly examined huge volumes of digital information traveling in and out of Germany.

Exasperated officials on both sides lamented privately that security restrictions kept them from being able to offer more details to back up general reassurances that the German public was not under sweeping surveillance by the United States.

Mr. Snowden continued to draw praise from respected figures like the writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who called him a “hero of the 21st century” in a television interview last week.

 But the same day, the British police detained David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who has been a main conduit for Mr. Snowden’s revelations. The Guardian, which has published articles by Mr. Greenwald, then revealed that British intelligence agents had overseen the destruction of computer hard drives at the newspaper’s offices.

The two incidents ignited fresh outrage in Germany, where data protection laws are strict, and jealously guarded by officials and consumers alike.

Germany’s privacy laws and public sensitivity to privacy issues have made it an attractive base for hacker activists like Jacob Appelbaum and for Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who helped bring Mr. Greenwald and Mr. Snowden together. A political movement called the Pirate Party won seats in Parliament in 2011 on a platform focused on Internet freedom.

Pirate Party and the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin had been talking for years about the technical possibility of widespread government surveillance in Germany.

And the German news media questioned the wisdom of The Guardian in allowing the authorities into its offices. Something is wrong, Die Zeit argued in an editorial, when a country like Britain — whose closeness to the United States has been stressed in coverage of the affair — forgets the difference between journalism and terrorism.

In 2002 German and American agencies tightened their cooperation after the Sept. 11 attacks, which were planned partly on German soil.  




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