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20th May 2018

German government outraged by US snooping scandal

  • Angela Merkel wants to bring up the spying scandal when she meets Obama (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The German government is demanding explanations from the US after it emerged that its secret spying programme Prism collected more information from Germany than any other EU country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to raise the issue when she receives US President Barack Obama in Berlin next week, her spokesman said on Monday (10 June).

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Data privacy is a very sensitive topic in Germany and the cluelessness of Merkel's government about the affair may become an issue in September's elections.

"Everything we know we found out from the media," interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Tuesday in a press conference in Berlin.

Its head of domestic intelligence, Hans-Georg Maassen, standing beside Friedrich, added: "I knew nothing about it."

The ministry of interior is working on a questionnaire for the US government to find out the extent and the legal basis for the collection of data from Germany, he added.

Similar information requests will be sent to Internet firms such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple, which were targeted by Prism, but which deny that US security staff got unlimited access to their servers.

Germany's hawkish interior minister - a Bavarian Christian-Social politician whose party is standing for re-election both on regional and national level in September - also indicated that US and German intelligence services co-operate well and that Prism might have "indirectly" helped Germany to prevent terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a Liberal politician, wrote in an op-ed for Spiegel Online that reports about Prism are "deeply worrying" and "dangerous."

She contradicted US leader Barack Obama, who recently said you cannot have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy at the same time.

"I do not share this view. A society is less free, the more its citizens are being surveilled, controlled and scrutinised. In a democratic system, security is not an end itself, but a means to ensure freedom," she wrote.

For his part, German data protection chief Peter Schaar said on the WDR public broadcaster that Prism amounts to "almost total surveillance."

"There has to be more digging into this, we should not be fobbed off like that," he said.

The German opposition is also outraged by the news and is likely to seize the opportunity to depict the government as incompetent in a Bundestag debate on Wednesday.

"This looks to me like it could become one of the biggest data privacy scandals ever," Greens leader Renate Kuenast told Reuters.

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