It’s somewhat amazing how much important news doesn’t reach us via the mainstream press. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see photos or film on Facebook of massive demonstrations that somehow never make it to the six o’clock news. For example, I’m willing to bet that very few people here in the U.S. know of the protests in Berlin outside the still-under-construction new headquarters of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).
This looks like important news to me. Many are saying that the BND is getting ready to go NSA on us. Indeed, the spooks at the BND already cooperate with the NSA to an extent that isn’t known, according to a report yesterday from NationalJournal’s Dustin Volz.
This news is somewhat, but not completely, surprising given Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s spying on Germany that included listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls. But there are reports that the BND, at the request of the NSA, is spying on German and European companies — Airbus and Siemens are mentioned — and politicians.
While denying any wrongdoing, the Merkel government refuses requests from a special German parliamentary committee investigating the NSA for search terms or “selectors,” “which would include details on which IP addresses, emails, and phone numbers were potentially handed over to the United States for surveillance.”
The latest tensions surrounding the BND’s new headquarters, expected to be completed next year and which will house 4,000 employees, began last summer. It was prompted by a treason investigation instigated by a German federal prosecutor against journalist Markus Beckedahl and a colliegue.
Beckedahl, the founder of the Berlin website Netzpolitik, had published confidential government documents that pointed to actions being taken to increase German-U.S. spying within Germany. The investigation brought a wave of attention from the local media, resulting in a public outcry which led to Germany’s justice minister firing the prosecutor and ending the investigation.
Meanwhile, Beckedahl hasn’t backed down and remains vocal.
“We fear a bit the outcome of the Snowden revelations are not to be seen as a signal for saving civil liberties, but: ‘Oh, let’s do the same. We can do much more surveillance,'” he has said. “So the BND is getting more money for building up its capabilities for mass surveillance.”
The protests have brought out some prominent people from the FOSS world as well, such as Torsten Grote with Free Software Foundation Europe who said, “Most people are still worried about the NSA. We can’t reform the NSA, but we can do something about the BND.”
However, as concerned as German privacy activists are about efforts by their homegrown BND, they realize that it could be worse.
“Germany is becoming a surveillance state, too, but compared to other countries around us, we are still one of the last bastions of press freedom and civil liberties,” Beckedahl told Volz.