After Edward Snowden exposed US government’s mass surveillance operations, most of the world was appalled. Germany was among the many countries to denounce the NSA, but behind the scenes the European Union’s economic powerhouse apparently liked what it saw.
Articles published by German-language Netzpolitik.org in February and April this year reported the country’s government planned to collect and monitor huge amounts of Internet data in a manner similar to the NSA’s PRISM program. The German secret service is using a covert budget to fund a new department that would improve and extend Germany’s mass surveillance capabilities including, among other things, the power to collect and analyze social media data.
In its reports, Netzpolitik quoted classified government documents discussing the surveillance expansion. As a result, the blog and the journalists who run it came under investigation. While no criminal charges were formally levied, Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister, and at least one unknown source are suspected of treason, according to the EFF.
Reason for the treason
How is this treason? Netzpolitik allegedly gave an unauthorized person or the public a state secret that damages Germany or favors a foreign power, and thereby caused a risk of serious disadvantage for the external security of Germany.
Netzpolitik supposedly committed treason by reporting Germany would use 2.75 million Euros to steal citizens’ contact lists, monitor online chats, and mine data from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Seventy-five spies will be designated to perform bulk data analysis under the new branch, dubbed the “Extended Specialist Support Internet” in English. This is in addition to the existing practice of tapping Internet connections, hacking individual email accounts, and eavesdropping by remotely activating cameras and microphones on users’ devices.
Just as with Snowden, authorities were quick to attack the whistleblower rather than look introspectively at the gross invasion of privacy and breach of personal security happening on their watch. Fortunately, Germany’s federal prosecutor halted the probe after the public expressed support for the accused journalists.
Germany’s decision to expand its surveillance programs comes with a hint of irony. The US and Germany have actually been cooperating since 2004 on secretive intelligence gathering. The NSA and Germany’s equivalent organization, the BND, jointly constructed an analysis center on German territory, which the US said would be used to target terrorists. In 2008, the Germans discovered the Americans were using the analysis center to spy on companies, agencies, and political figures in neighboring European nations, and even on Germany itself.
German authorities didn’t immediately take action. In fact, they sat on their hands for the next five years until Snowden made the scandal too high-profile not to step in. Investigations soon followed, which revealed the US violated German interests. Chancellor Angela Merkel went on a tirade against the US when the NSA failed to give reasons for its faux pas. Over recent months, Germany has taken steps to reduce cooperation with the NSA, but don’t think for a second that it’s reducing its illegal efforts to spy on private citizens.
Seems like Big Bruder is here to stay.