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'Power must be subject to rules'

June 27, 2014

The German lower house of parliament has canceled its contract for Internet usage with US company Verizon, announcing the move on the first day of a special "cyber dialogue" conference tied to the NSA espionage scandal.

Steinmeier Cyber-Dialog 27.06.2014 Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the cyber dialogue conference in Berlin on Friday with a keynote speech calling for greater regulation of government intelligence agencies' work online.

"Data are power, and power must be subject to rules," Steinmeier said. He also paraphrased Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, breaking into English briefly to say, "we need an Internet of the people, by the people and for the people."

The Social Democrat politician said he understood the NSA's need to gather international intelligence, saying nobody "had so painfully discovered" the dangers of a globalized world than the US on September 11, 2001. However, Steinmeier said public concerns "about an all-powerful state" and "that the age of Big Data is becoming the age of Big Brother" should be taken seriously as well.

John Podesta, Barack Obama's special advisor on 'Big Data,' sought to stress the guidelines the NSA already applies when gathering information on non-US citizens. Podesta said that the US wanted to show in Berlin "that spying on ordinary citizens is not what we do."

Opposition wants closer focus on German complicity

The German government's position at the talks has been compromised somewhat by more recent allegations regarding the international espionage practices, as has Steinmeier's. Documents published in last week'sedition of newsmagazine Der Spiegel suggested that Germany's NSA-equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), worked much more closely with the NSA than was previously thought. On Wednesday, daily paper the Süddeutsche Zeitung and regional broadcasters WDR and NDR issued a joint report claiming that from 2004 to 2007, the BND transferred telephone data directly to the NSA.

Opposition politicians have since called for a closer investigation into the activities of the German intelligence agencies, who received support from Chacellor Angela Merkel.

Cyber-Dialog 27.06.2014 Berlin
Steinmeier's one of around 100 participating in the 'cyber dialogue'Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"Everything now seems to suggest that the former [Social Democrat and Green party coalition] government readily offered up the BND as a data-vacuum-cleaner for the NSA," the Left party's Katja Kipping said in an interview with the Rheinische Post paper, to be published on Friday. She said suspicions were solidifying that "the NSA had accomplices within the German executive."

This appeared something of a nod to the keynote speaker at the cyber dialogue meeting, Steinmeier. The current foreign minister was in charge of chancellery in Berlin under Gerhard Schröder - reportedly the first German chancellor the NSA sought to tap, before Merkel - when the alleged BND-NSA collusion began.

Parliament ditches Verizon

Germany's Bundestag joined the federal government in cutting its ties with the Verizon telecoms giant, moving to Deutsche Telekom for its Internet provision.

"We now want to stop making use of the Verizon service as quickly as possible," the Bundestag's vice-presdient, Petra Pau of the Left party, said on Friday. The Bundestag had informed Verizon that it would not extend its contract at the end of the year, but a spokesman for the lower house said that members of parliament, their staff and administrative officials would be asked not to use Verizon for the remainder of the contract.

The German federal government took a similar step early in the year, Pau said, but gave another reason for switching providers. Verizon was one of the companies alleged of helping the US collect data on millions of Internet and phone users.

Detlef Eppig, who heads Verizon Deutschland, said his company had already made it clear that it upholds German laws and that the NSA has no access to customer information stored outside the US.

Roughly 100 politicians and representatives of commerce and the general public, from Germany and the US, are gathered in Berlin for a special "cyber dialogue" summit, called as part of the aftermath of the espionage allegations against the US' National Security Agency (NSA) and other similar organizations.

msh/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)