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Politico: Obama consults IT heads, encryption sites halted

The Washington-based news website Politico says US President Barack Obama has hosted surveillance-versus-privacy talks with Internet executives. Pre-election Germany continues to debate data links with US agencies.

President Barack Obama held unannounced talks with top Internet executives and privacy advocates about US surveillance late Thursday, according the investigative US media outlet Politico.

It quoted industry and White House sources as saying it was part of a new initiative launched by Obama aides earlier this week to deal with worldwide criticism over US electronic eavesdropping. The scandal was sparked by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked information about the surveillance. He was recently given asylum in Russia.

Politico claimed that participants at Thursday's talks with Obama included Apple's Tim Cook, Google's veteran Internet scientist Vint Cerf and AT&T head Randall Stephenson as well as several civil liberties leaders. It added that the White House had declined to provide details of those talks.

The session was not included on Obama's public schedule for Thursday.

BND admits NSA software usage

Politico's disclosure coincides with a first public admission by Germany's foreign BND intelligence agency that it used scanning software called XKeyScore provided by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

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Blame tussle over NSA cooperation

The BND said it had used the software since 2007 to intercept and analyze Internet data from satellite links – reportedly from Afghanistan and North Africa - and insisted it conformed strictly with German data privacy law.

"XKeyScore is an important module in fulfilling the remit of the BND in particular during reconnaissance in crisis zones, for the protection of German soldiers deployed in these zones, the fight against terrorism and to protect and rescue kidnapped German citizens," the BND said.

German politician defends collaboration

Ahead of Germany's federal election on September 22, opposition Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary group leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Friday defended Germany's decision in 2002 – in the wake of al Qaeda's September 2001 attacks on New York's twin towers – to work closely with US intelligence services.

Philipp Rösler, the pro-business leader of the liberal Free Democrat party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's current coalition government, demanded that Steinmeier explain his role in intensifying German-US data exchanges a decade ago.

Steinmeier told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper on Friday that in 2002, when he headed the office of the-then center-left Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, that government made sure that "no mass spying on German citizens took place."

The cooperation was necessary, however, to "prevent further terrorist attacks," Steinmeier said.

Schröder's then-coalition comprised his Social Democrats and Greens party.

Left's Riexinger: lock broken open

The head of Germany's communist-leaning Left party Bernd Riexinger told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Friday that in 2002 "red-green broke open the lock for the NSA," referring to the former Social Democrat and Green party coalition government.

German opposition parties recently pounced on the disclosures made by Snowden via the British newspaper Guardian in May to argue that German intelligence agencies were out of control.

The issues of privacy and data surveillance have emerged as dominant election issues as Chancellor Merkel seeks a third term for her conservatives.

Email encryption services halted

Meanwhile, an encrypted email service, Lavabit, thought to have been regularly used by Snowden, shut down abruptly on Thursday. Its Texas-based founder Ladar Levison said he had suspended operations rather than "become complicit in crimes against the American people."

Levison said Lavabit had resorted to legal moves, apparently to prevent US authorities from accessing details of customers. Reuters said the US justice department provided no immediate comment.

Another provider Silent Mail said it had also suspended its service.

ipj/hc (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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