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Opinion: Washington balks? Go ask Snowden!

Edward Snowden agrees to speak to German authorities about alleged US spying in the country - a perfect opportunity for Germany to demonstrate its independence from the United States, DW's Volker Wagener says.

What a coup! Hans-Christian Ströbele, a lawmaker with Germany's opposition Greens, got the ball rolling again in the international NSA spy scandal. This is the message he brought with him from Moscow: the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden agreed to questioning by a yet to be formed German parliamentary committee of investigation in the Russian capital. Snowden is willing to take part. A former criminal defense lawyer, Ströbele is decried as a leftist but respected as a person of moral integrity among Germany's middle class.

Volker Wagener. Photo DW/Per Henriksen

Volker Wagener is an editor at DW's Germany desk

His surprise visit gave focus and direction to the current outrage about NSA dealings in Germany. It could be the start of an initiative toward clarification, originating from the Bundestag, the federal government and the Federal Prosecutor, and thus in the interest of many other states that feel deceived by the NSA surveillance attacks. Interviewing Snowden directly could provide answers to questions Washington has so far not commented on or flatly denied.

Moscow must agree

The problem: Moscow must agree to such an interview. Not quite by choice Snowden, 30, is in exile in Russia - an interim solution until next summer when his asylum status is scheduled to expire. The US authorities currently can't grab the whistleblower, but the Russians only offer temporary protection, and only under certain conditions. Snowden is not allowed to unveil more secrets from Russian soil. Russian President Vladimir Putin has an agenda of his own in this international affair. He doesn't want to needlessly strain the already difficult relationship between Moscow and Washington. What is more likely, however, is that Snowden with his security clearance is not a totally unwelcome guest for Putin. Snowden's letter is being passed on to the German government, parliament and the Federal Prosecutor and it makes one thing clear: The whistleblower is seeking an act of liberation. That's an opportunity for Berlin.

Chance to emancipate

Other countries have moved from complaining about the NSA's surveillance activities to taking things into their own hands. Brazil is actively rebelling against US dominance on the Internet. Brazil wants to force US Internet giant Google to store data on Brazilian users only on data servers located on Brazilian soil so the company's actions fall under Brazilian jurisdiction. Plans also foresee relocating submarine communications cables to bypass the NSA as much as possible. Brazilian public authorities also won't use Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program as a tangible reactions to concrete spying.

Germany should take advantage of the channel of communication Hans-Christian Ströbele has opened to Snowden to shed light on details of our American friends' access to our private, political and administrative data. Apart from practical security measures for the future, it would provide the chance to emancipate ourselves from a "big brother" we've accompanied far too long naïvely and without criticism.

First and foremost, instead of exhausting our energies in visions of the future that include a European no-spy accord, the as of yet completely unsolved NSA surveillance madness should be revealed.

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