Germany′s Pirates missing the boat on Prism | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.07.2013
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Germany's Pirates missing the boat on Prism

Germany's Pirate Party has campaigned for Internet privacy since its foundation, but has benefited little from the recent outrage over international surveillance programs. The party itself is partly to blame.

The video shows a group of stick figures waving black signs to the beat of music. The group is demonstrating against the Prism and Tempora surveillance programs, in which US and UK intelligence services are monitoring the voice and data communications of citizens on a large scale - allegedly in Germany as well. The message of the Internet video is clear and ominous: “Take action against Prism and Tempora while you still can.”

The movie “Surveillance State for Dummies,” which walks viewers through the Prism and Tempora surveillance programs, was uploaded to the Internet by the Pirates in mid-June, about two weeks after US whistleblower Edward Snowden blew the lid on the extent of governments' international surveillance activities.

Possible collaboration with Germany?

In the video, the Pirates explain how US secret services, possibly in collaboration with their German counterparts, gather data and monitor citizens. Internet privacy is an issue the Pirates - which includes numerous computer experts - understand well. In fact, it is one of their major issues, and the Pirates entered their first regional German parliament in 2011 and have won representation in four states since then.

Pirate Party campaigning Foto: Kay Nietfeld dpa/lbn +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The Pirate Party entered its first regional German parliament in 2011

The surveillance scandal instigated by Snowden, however, hasn't given the Pirates much of a boost in the public eye. According to polls, their support nationally fluctuates between two and four percent, still below the five percent they would need in September's federal election to enter parliament. One of the reasons for the poor results, according to some analysts, is that the surveillance scandal hasn't yet caught the attention of all voters.

“There are at most 40 percent who say ‘I heard about something,' ” Forsa Institute pollster Manfred Güllner told DW, noting that the floods in Germany and current events in Egypt had been drawing more attention.

The true extent of the surveillance scandal is difficult to grasp for many potential voters, according to Sascha Lobo, a well-known German Internet activist. Many people, he argues, haven't yet grasped how deeply digital network surveillance penetrates their lives. “This is something abstract and relatively difficult for citizens to get upset and outraged about,” he said. And the Pirates, he added, are not the only ones focusing on the issue. The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens, and even German President Joachim Gauck have responded with anger to Snowden's accusations, taking some of the wind out of the Pirates' sails.

Concrete solutions

Bernd Schlömer Bild DW, Heiner Kiesel, 26. Juli 2013

Pirate Party chairman Bernd Schlömer sees changes ahead

Pirate Party chairman Bernd Schlömer conceded on Friday (26.07.2013) that his party has slipped into the background slightly during “this massive outrage.” But he argues that, unlike the other parties, the Pirates have offered concrete solutions, such as a proposed international agreement on Internet surveillance and the immediate end to the transfer of air passenger data to the US. But this was the first announcement by the head of the Pirate Party - on a scandal that became public two months ago.

Schlömer disagrees with the criticism that his party was too slow to respond to the scandal. “We were always on top of the issue,” he said, adding that the party “participated very intensively in the debate from the very start through its known online campaigns and online tools.”

In recent weeks, the Pirates have been organizing so-called “crypto-parties” around Germany, where participants explain how to encrypt email and other computer communications to protect against spying. But the Pirates aren't the only ones organizing crypto-parties.

'Stop Watching Us'

On Sunday (28.07.2013), thousands of citizens demonstrated in German cities against surveillance by US secret services. In addition to the Pirates, the Greens and the global alliance “Stop Watching Us” called on citizens to join the demonstrations.

Katharina Nocun Foto: Ole Spata/dpa

The Pirate Party's Katharina Nocun remains optimistic

The Pirates are at least partly to blame for their low ratings in the polls. In addition to the fierce competition they face from the other parties, they have been weighed down in internal squabbles, resignations, and the occasional absurd demand from individual members, and have consequently lost voters' trust “that they are a serious party,” Lobo told DW. “That's why it's been very difficult for the Pirates to score points on their own turf – namely, civil rights and the Internet.”

Katharina Nocun, the Pirates' policy coordinator, is still optimistic though. The party, she said, faces a “huge opportunity to join forces internally and to move forward in a constructive way.” Party chairman Schlömer agrees. “We haven't received a lot of attention but that's changing,” he said. In the coming weeks, he added, the party plans to distribute several thousand DVDs with tips and programs on encryption.

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