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Press watchdog sues German BND spy agency

July 1, 2015

Reporters Without Borders has accused Germany's foreign intelligence service of spying on emails sent by the NGO to contacts abroad. The BND screens millions of emails annually.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Paul Zinken

Reporters Without Borders is taking Germany's foreign intelligence service to court, alleging that the BND has violated the group's telecommunications secrecy. On Wednesday, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig confirmed that it had received the suit from the German affiliate of the Paris-based transnational group and would examine the case against.

According to a parliamentary report from January, the BND screened hundreds of millions of emails for certain search terms in 2013, picking out 15,000 for much closer scrutiny. That same year, Reporters Without Borders sent and received about 280,000 to and from contacts in countries that might raise eyebrows at the BND.

"We simply must assume that emails from and to Reporters Without Borders were affected by this," Matthias Spielkamp said in Berlin on Wednesday, considering the quantity of messages, the BND's search terms and the locations of the NGO's contacts.

The group engages in highly sensitive communications involving international press freedom and often with partners in areas with few protections for media, and Spielkamp said that any interference could jeopardize contacts abroad: "The BND's investigation of emails means that journalists can no longer trust that their personal concerns and communications will remain in confidence."

Reporters Without Borders contends that this represents a restriction on the press.

BND officials have so far declined to comment on the case. The service also recently came under fire after it was revealed that it had tracked a number of targets on behalf of the US National Security Agency. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself once monitored by the NSA, has defended the collaboration, calling data collection essential to security.

mkg/msh (epd, dpa, AP)

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