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Berlin mixed on NSA speech

January 18, 2014

Senior political leaders in Berlin have welcomed US President Barack Obama's NSA speech as an important first step. But many have expressed skepticism that Washington will follow through with broad surveillance reform.

USA PK Obama zur NSA-Affäre 17.1.2014
Image: Reuters

Obama unveils spy policy changes

President Obama's proposals to reform US surveillance operations have been met with mixed reaction in Berlin, where trust in Washington has taken a major hit since the October revelations that Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone had been tapped by the NSA.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert welcomed Obama's proposal to impose greater restrictions on surveillance of non-US citizens.

"Now as before, the federal government expects German law to be respected on German territory," Seibert said on Friday.

Over the summer, the newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that the NSA was collecting massive amounts of Internet metadata in Germany.

The chairman of the German parliamentary committee that oversees Berlin's intelligence agencies said that the US president had "drawn the right consequences from the NSA spying scandal."

"The speech was an important step on the way to a common understanding, which not only supports the security needs of our countries, but also data protection and citizens' civil liberties," said Clemens Binninger, a member of Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Party (CDU).

Call for 'binding treaty'

But German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper over the weekend that the US president's proposal did not go far to restore the broken trust between Washington and Berlin.

"Only when we have signed a legally binding treaty that protects all citizens will the lost trust be won back," said Maas, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

"President Obama has made the first step," the justice minister said. "The NSA should no longer be able to collect data unrestricted."

While Green Party politician Hans-Christian Ströbele praised Obama for delivering a speech addressing the NSA scandal, he expressed skepticism that the reforms would be successfully implemented.

"We know that these intelligence services, above all the NSA, are a huge power in the US and they will come up with ways so that this isn't too threatening for them," said Ströbele, who personally met with NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in Moscow last October.

Meanwhile, Wolfgang Bosbach - chairman of the German parliament's interior committee - said that Obama's speech would "not put German citizens at ease."

"I fear that the Americans will continue to collect data - including from allies - without cause," said Bosbach, a member of Merkel's CDU.

slk/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)