Germany caught in the NSA’s PRISM

The US Government's PRISM initiative may have been spying on German citizens' internet traffic…

We’ve yet to talk about the PRISM scandal in the US here on the NEXT Berlin blog. The ground has been shifting so fast, with revelation after revelation, that it seemed appropriate to wait until more details emerged.

But now, the scandal has arrived right at NEXT’s doorstep:

Today in Der Spiegel, the NSA’s surveillance activities in Germany were detailed, including the collection of 500 million “communications connections” inside the country monthly. Spiegel states explicitly that the information collected includes phone calls, digital messages such as email, and chat logs.

How extensive is that actually?

The scale of the collection is exceptionally high in comparison to the German population: On January 7th, the NSA collected, according to Spiegel, “60 million communications connections.” Germany has roughly 80 million citizens.

As The Guardian reports, the political reaction has been, well, unhappy:

The European commission called on the US to clarify allegations that the NSA, operating from Nato headquarters a few miles away in Brussels, had infiltrated secure telephone and computer networks at the venue for EU summits in the Belgian capital. The fresh revelations in the Guardian and allegations in the German publication Der Spiegel triggered outrage in Germany and in the European parliament and threatened to overshadow negotiations on an ambitious transatlantic free-trade pact worth hundreds of billions due to open next week.

The sheer extent of the alleged monitoring of Germany will, if proven true, move the debate forwards from multiple violations of individual privacy to what looks like, in essence, espionage against an allied country:

Germany’s justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, called for an explanation from the US authorities. “If the media reports are true, it is reminiscent of the actions of enemies during the cold war,” she was quoted as saying in the German newspaper Bild. “It is beyond imagination that our friends in the US view Europeans as the enemy.”

This issue has passed beyond the stage where anyone in the digital business can afford to ignore it. The public’s faith in the internet as a secure place to communicate and store data is likely to be shaken. There’s a new dragon in town, and it feels very real indeed.

This year’s main conference might be over* – but the theme – here be dragons – is alive and well.

* But NEXT Service Design is still to come…

Photo by mendhak on Flickr, and used under a Creative Common licence