Opposition parties and IT groups say German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich failed in his trip to the US. One told DW the meeting was a "placebo," while another said the German-US balance of power is at stake.
"Disaster," "complete failure," "a flop": the German opposition parties have been unsparing in criticizing Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich for what they call his failure to bring back answers from a trip to Washington for talks on the National Security Agency (NSA) Internet surveillance scandal. Friedrich promised more information ahead of his visit, which included meetings with US Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder on the NSA's online spying activities.
Konstantin von Notz, a member of the Greens and an expert on domestic affairs, told DW that Friedrich's meeting with US politicians cured nothing, offering a placebo instead: "It was an attempt at making it seem like something was being done."
There was no result from the trip, adds IT expert and researcher Constanze Kurz of the Chaos Computer Club. After discussions with US officials, Friedrich said that the NSA's activities did not involve scanning massive amounts of data but, instead, that everything is conducted in a highly targeted manner.
"That is, of course, dumbing down the population," Kurz said, noting that she believes the disclosures in recent weeks show the exact opposite of Friedrich's claim.
Top election issue?
Von Notz wonders whether Chancellor Angela Merkel would have to take on the matter herself. But the Green party politician does not think she wants to. "Merkel is trying to separate herself from this issue. But she won't succeed in doing so all the way until September 22," he said, in reference to the date on which Germany's federal elections are scheduled this year.
The election campaign has officially begun, and the NSA surveillance scandal is emerging as a key issue along the way. Now, says Constanze Kurz, it will fall to the opposition parties to come up with clear proposals on how they intend to treat the matter.
Furthermore, says von Notz, the federal government has not yet comprehended what is at stake with respect to the data scandal. He believes that the governing coalition has put too much emphasis on the fact that official German delegations were potentially the victims of surveillance, whereas the core of the issue in von Notz' view is that 80 million German people's communication was being monitored.
Shifting the balance of power
Constanze Kurz reports having watched in complete disbelief as Friedrich appeared on television to summarize the results of his meeting in Washington. Kurz warns that what's at stake in the NSA affair is the balance of political power between the US and Germany.
"It's power that's gleaned from data and knowledge," she said, saying she was baffled that the federal government continues to regard the US and Great Britain as Germany's partners and allies. "The publications make it clear that we are the target of attacks."
The problem, Kurz says, is that Germany is letting itself be lulled by "security nonsense" - a reference to claims that the NSA's surveillance activities have been able to stop terrorist attacks. But the IT expert argues there has not been sufficient evidence that this has been the case.
Seeking clear actions
Germany's opposition parties and other critics are now calling for a more firm approach in talks with the US and the UK, whose surveillance program seems to have gone further than the activities of the Prism program operated by US intelligence authorities.
Konstantin von Notz has demanded clear words, followed by decisive actions, from Angela Merkel. "We can stop passing on flight passenger data to the US or revoke the SWIFT agreement on banking data transfers," he said, referring to instances where European data protection laws ultimately trumped Washington's security wishes. These precedents showed, von Notz argued, that serious negotiations with the US were possible, if the government in Berlin really wanted them.
Although German media have featured much discussion and criticism of the NSA's activities, there have yet to be any major public demonstrations in response to the disclosures in recent weeks.
Constanze Kurz blames this "lethargy" on the fact that, due to the nature of the intelligence agencies' surveillance, people remain unaware of the act as it is occurring. And Kurz remains disappointed that the government seems content not to pursue the issue further: "Interior Minister Friedrich is not going to do anything there. We'll learn all of the further details in the papers."