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Germany

Deutsche Telekom Hires Former Judge for Snooping Probe

Deutsche Telekom, under fire for breaching data privacy, has hired a senior German judge to lead an internal probe into allegations it snooped on journalists and board members to plug media leaks.

Deutsche Telekom logo

Deutsche Telekom is in big trouble because of the latest spying scandal

Speaking a day after prosecutors searched the embattled company's Bonn head office, Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann said he was hiring Gerhard Schaefer, an expert on privacy law and former Federal Court judge, to lead an inquiry into allegations the German telecommunications giant traced phone calls between directors and reporters.

Obermann called Schaefer, 70, "a proven and renowned expert in data security and media freedom."

He said Schaefer, equipped with his own staff to question personnel and recommend new privacy guidelines, will begin work next Tuesday.

Snooping scandal sparks outcry

Gerhard Schaefer, former judge

Can Gerhard Schaefer help to salvage Telekom's tattered image?

Europe's largest phone company is under fire over reports it had hired an outside firm to surreptitiously track hundreds of thousands of phone calls by senior executives and journalists to identify the source of leaks to the news media about the company's internal affairs.

Telekom this week acknowledged illegal monitoring of phone records. Prosecutors have opened investigations against former Telekom CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke and the former chairman of Deutsche Telekom's supervisory board, Klaus Zumwinkel.

The affair has sparked an outcry in Germany among privacy advocates, politicians and labor representatives, reviving debate about whether phone companies should even keep records of calls.

New German legislation requires the records to be kept in case they need to be seized by court order for crime inquiries.

Personal data protection and privacy are sensitive issues in Germany ever since the state-sanctioned snooping of the Nazi and Communist regimes.

The scandal threatened to widen when a German newspaper alleged that Telekom had also spied on the bank records of board members and journalists as well as details of their phone calls. Another business newspaper has said Deutsche Telekom had hired private detectives to spy on its reporters in 2000 and had even secretly filmed the newsroom.

Government calls for self-regulation

telephone book

Data security carries a particular resonance in Germany

On Friday, the German government weighed in, demanding that telecommunications companies introduce self-regulation to prevent any repeats of the privacy breaches at Telekom.

Politicians in Germany have long debated the need for self-regulation among companies, most recently amid outrage over soaring salaries of top corporate managers.

But Dieter Wiefelspütz, domestic policy expert of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said in an interview he remained skeptical about companies voluntarily coming up with a moral code of conduct in such matters.

"You apparently can't leave it to business to protect business data," he told daily Kölner Stadtanzeiger, saying there was "a lack of the least bit of decency and respect for laws" in certain business quarters. The politician compared Telekom's handling of its own customer data to a food company that mixed poison with its food.

He called for a complete overhaul of the company, saying "Telekom's dirty business has to be cleaned out."

A spokesman for the interior ministry, however, told news agency DPA that government representatives are to meet in Berlin on Monday with Telekom's bosses to discuss how the industry can improve compliance with privacy laws.

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