New leaked documents show Germany as big a target as Iraq and China for NSA

Michelle Kuepper 2013-07-01 10

The latest leaked documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggest US secret service NSA has been far more active in monitoring communication in Germany than previously thought. The documents, received by leading German news magazine Der Spiegel, apparently show that about half a billion phone calls, emails and texts have been the subject of surveillance every month – which means the German government could now take a more aggressive stance on the scandal.

While it was known that German citizens were also a major international target of NSA surveillance, the extent of the surveillance was unclear. As it turns out, Germany is being monitored far more than its EU neighbours, including France – where only roughly one-tenth of the amount logged in Germany is being investigated. UK newspaper The Guardian, which received the initial leaked documents from Snowden, released heat maps that show the amount of data collected by the NSA in various countries. These maps highlight that the NSA is apparently putting about as much spying effort into Germany as it is to Iraq, China and Saudi Arabia.

Only a handful of countries that are defined as “second-party partners” are reported to be excluded from the snooping – including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Germany, on the other hand, is classified as a “third-party foreign partner” – and the NSA allegedly claims in an internal presentation leaked to Der Spiegel that they “can, and often do, target the signals of most third-party foreign partners”.

Der Spiegel reported that the majority of the surveillance is centred on internet hubs in southern and western Germany, such as financial centre Frankfurt.

The news comes after revelations that the NSA has been spying on both the European Union in Brussels and its Washington offices since September 2010, which Der Spiegel claims the new documents back up. The extent of the surveillance includes phone tapping and installing spyware on EU computers to gain access to emails. These revelations could jeopardise the negotiations of a new free trade agreement between the EU and US, worth billions of dollars.

When President Obama visited Germany two weeks ago, shortly after the Prism scandal, he tried to explain the NSA’s actions by saying “this is not a situation in which we are rifling through, you know, the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else”. The BBC reported today that US Secretary of State John Kerry said the NSA’s activities were “not unusual” in international relations.

Germany is known for being very privacy-conscious – it’s taken on corporates before to protect the rights of its citizens, including getting Facebook to delete facial recognition data and being the first to protest against Google Street View’s collection of public WiFi data. With the federal elections coming up this November, pressure will now be on Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a more active stand against the Prism scandal – or risk losing her citizens’ support. 

Image credit: jDevaun

For related posts, check out

US to EU – PRISM isn’t mining Europeans’ personal data in bulk
Prism, meet Tempora: the British spy agency’s programme to capture calls, Facebook messages, emails, and more
The Dark Side of the Goons – an essential guide to thwarting PRISM

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