Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Obama vows to 'listen' to European critics on Internet snooping

  • Merkel "discussed at length" with Obama about the US online snooping programme (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

"Welcome among friends," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told US President Barack Obama in front of the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday (19 June), where a few thousand people defied the scorching sun.

Just a few hours earlier, in a joint press conference, she said she had held "lengthy, in-depth talks" with the US leader on the so-called Prism programme, a secret online surveillance scheme targeting Americans and EU citizens alike in the pursuit of alleged terrorists and criminals.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"For the German people it is important and necessary to debate these issues. People have concerns that there may some kind of a blanket, across-the-board gathering of information. And there are questions that have not yet been answered sufficiently, so the dialogue will continue," Merkel said.

While admitting that some of these covert intelligence-gathering programmes have helped thwart terrorist attacks, Merkel underlined the "need for proportionality" in surveillance by US intelligence services.

For his part, Obama said the surveillance is limited in scope and overseen by judges.

But he vowed to "listen to critics" and to have an "open debate" about it.

He explained that the programme is only aimed at finding leads on potential terrorist attacks, for instance "if someone from New York or Berlin called Osama Bin Laden's number."

Over 50 "threats" have been averted, not only in the US, but also in Europe, as a result of the operations, Obama said.

The US President denied that his secret services can access the emails or Facebook accounts of anyone in the world, as claimed by CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier this month.

"This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else," Obama said.

"This is not a situation where we simply go into the Internet and start searching any way that we want. This is a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people. And all of it is done under the oversight of the courts," he added.

Citing James Madison, one of the first presidents of the United States, Obama later in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate said the US cannot endure a state of "perpetual war."

He indicated that this entails closing the US' extra-judicial detention centre for terrorist suspects in Guantanamo, Cuba.

He said this also means "balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy."

"I’m confident that that balance can be struck. I’m confident of that, and I’m confident that working with Germany, we can keep each other safe while at the same time maintaining those essential values for which we fought for," Obama noted.

Small protests against the Prism programme have been taking place in Berlin over the past two days.

The rallies came after leaked files show that the US did more spying on Germany than any other EU country.

For its part, he Internet-freedom-loving Pirate Party gathered about 100 people on Wednesday at the same spot where Obama first spoke in Berlin in 2008, a victory column two kilometres down the road from Obama's main venue this time around.

Dozens protested in Berlin against Obama's secret surveillance programme

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us