Snowden backlash: Germany's Merkel takes UK to task

News by Tim Ring

German leader Angela Merkel openly attacks the UK and US's mass electronic surveillance programmes

In a speech to the German Parliament last week following her re-election, Merkel – whose own mobile phone was bugged by the Americans – criticised the mass data harvesting by the UK's GCHQ intelligence agency and America's NSA revealed by ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden, according to reports in The Guardian and US media.

She said: “Does it make it right for our closest allies, like the United States or Britain, to access all imaginable data - arguing that it helps their own security and that of their partners? Our answer can only be - no, that cannot be right."

She added: "A programme in which the end justifies all means, in which everything that is technically possible is then acted out, violates trust and spreads mistrust. In the end, it produces not more but less security."

UK privacy expert Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, welcomed her stance and warned that Germany's stronger view on data privacy is encouraging companies to store their data there and so harming the British economy.

He told “Chancellor Merkel is absolutely correct to highlight how it is not right for every possible piece of information to be collected by intelligence agencies. It is neither consistent with our values as democracies nor a sustainable way of dealing with the new challenges the internet poses for security.”

And he warned: “What is clearly a concern is that Germany's legal framework is viewed as more robust by businesses, both in terms of protecting customers from the state but also citizens from corporate data collection. That differentiation, coupled with a more transparent and rigorous oversight regime, makes Germany more attractive and we are already seeing efforts to lure businesses there because of these issues. That hits the British economy and is one of many reasons why we need a root and branch review of surveillance law in the UK, to ensure citizens and businesses alike can have confidence that their privacy and security is not being compromised.”

Pickles said “we need an independent, comprehensive review of the British legal framework and the role of GCHQ in issues like encryption standards, so we can be confident that we are respecting the privacy of ordinary British people, allowing Parliament to consider what surveillance is reasonable and to protect our digital economy”.

In her speech, Chancellor Merkel stopped short of threatening to suspend Europe's free trade agreement with the US to achieve change, and she said Germany's close friendship with the US should not be damaged "through surveillance measures that obstruct our trusting communication".

Two days after she spoke last Wednesday, she met US Secretary of State John Kerry in Berlin.

Meanwhile the latest Snowden revelation, reported by Canadian news broadcaster CBC, is that the Canadian intelligence service used metadata obtained from the free WiFi service at a major Canadian airport to track the mobile devices of thousands of airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.

CBC said the electronic eavesdropping was part of a trial run for the NSA and other intelligence services, and quoted one Canadian authority on cyber security as saying the operation was almost certainly illegal.

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