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September 10th, 2015

Germany’s Homegrown NSA

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.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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