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Merkel official downplays data scare, opposition dubious

The head of German leader Angela Merkel's chancellery, Ronald Pofalla, has insisted that global data scans by US and British secret services did not breach German law designed to protect the privacy of citizens.

Angela Merkel's bureau head said on Monday that Germans' fears of mass data scans by the US National Security Agency (NSA) were unfounded.

Opposition politicians emerging from a closed-door parliamentary oversight committee hearing in Berlin on Monday said, however, that the five-hour session had failed to shine much light on the affair.

Pofalla told waiting journalists that "the allegation of a supposed blanket surveillance in Germany is now, after information given by the NSA, British intelligence and our intelligence forces, off the table."

"In Germany there are no infringements of fundamental rights by the millions, as has been continuously, falsely alleged," Pofalla said.

Opposition unconvinced

The oversight committee's chairman, the opposition Social Democrat Thomas Oppermann, said Merkel should continue to "demand from the United States the transparency that [President Barack] Obama has promised."

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"The affair is not ended. Most of the allegations are not off the table."

"We still don't know exactly, how comprehensively the USA eavesdrops on German citizens," Oppermann said.

Talk of a "no-spy pact" between Berlin and Washington made no sense, said Oppermann, unless Germany were shown how the NSA program Prism and the British system Tempora actually functioned.

The senior opposition Greens parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele said the suspicion of eavesdropping on German citizens remained.

Approach Congress, says Ströbele

Ströbele said Germany's Bundestag should make direct approaches to the US Congress, which had posed similar questions in connection with the NSA.

In June the United States confirmed the existence of Prism, after ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed data mining of users of Google, Facebook, Skype and other US companies.

Since then, a stream of new allegations - that the British were also spying and that Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency had forwarded data to the NSA - has fueled disquiet.

On 26 July, German President Joachim Gauck - referring to communism and Nazism - said the country had painful experiences of living in a security state where no one was safe to speak out:

"We Germans have had to experience the abuse of state power with secret services twice in our history," Gauck said. "And therefore we are sensitive [to this] and our American friends must accept that."

The issue remains a key topic in the lead-up to Germany's federal election on September 22. Merkel's conservatives are still tipped to win, with opinion poll ratings at 41 percent, some 16 points ahead of the Social Democrats led by their chancellery candidate Peer Steinbrück.

It is less clear whether Merkel can renew her center-right coalition with the pro-business liberal Free Democrats, who are hovering around the 5 percent threshold required to guarantee representation in parliament.

ipj/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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