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Making surveillance concessions

August 2, 2013

Germany has canceled a Cold War-era surveillance pact with the US and Britain. The largely symbolic move comes as Chancellor Angela Merkel's government faces mounting criticism for its complicity in spying programs.

A woman stands in front of a board showing XKeyScore locations. APA-FOTO: ROLAND SCHLAGER - 20130801_PD0369
Image: picture alliance/APA/picturedesk.com

"The cancellation of the administrative agreements, which we have pushed for in recent weeks, is a necessary and proper consequence of the recent debate about protecting personal privacy," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement Friday, referring to the revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

The move appears to be an effort on behalf of the government to show that it's taking steps to prevent the unwarranted surveillance against German citizens. However, the pact itself appears to have little significance.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement that it was a "loose end from a previous era which is right to tie up," adding that it had not been used since 1990. The US embassy confirmed the agreement had been canceled, but did not elaborate.

Spying concerns

Following the revelations of mass online government spying by the US, Merkel has come under criticism for how much she knew about the programs and to what extent Germany was involved. She has been forced less than two months before the national election to defend her position that the country "is not a surveillance state."

But recent media reports have revealed programs that the German government worked in cooperation with British and US spy programs, most notably through a mass online data collection tool known as "XKeyScore." The government has also reportedly allowed the US access to its intelligence services for matters related to the safety of troops stationed in Germany.

Germany's history of government snooping overreach, particularly by East Germany's infamous Stasi police, makes citizens wary of surveillance programs. However, Merkel is insistent that even with US spying efforts, "German law applies on German soil," but conceded that rule had limits in the modern age of global telecommunications.

Opposition hits out

With the September 22 national election looming, opposition politicians have not held back when it comes to challenging Merkel and her government's collaboration with US surveillance programs.

"Mrs. Merkel seems to lack the courage and backbone to defend the basic rights of Germans in relation to our American friends," the head of the Social Democrats parliamentary faction, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told the DPA news agency.

"Also eight weeks after Snowden's revelations the federal government has not been able to clarify what has happened to the data of the people in Germany," he added.

dr/hc (AP, AFP, dpa)