Merkel Puts Brakes on NSA Co-operation

Angela Merkel has ordered intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) to stop co-operating with the NSA in order to preserve her reputation and coalition government.  

German intelligence sources told Reuters this week that the BND’s Bad Aibling station has ceased sending the US spy agency information culled from online surveillance efforts.

A row had apparently erupted in Germany over allegations that the BND, which reports directly into the Chancellor’s office, had been helping the NSA spy on European firms and leaders.

There’s been widespread anger at such stories in Germany ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed details of wide-ranging NSA espionage activities in the country.

Privacy and surveillance are particularly sensitive topics in Germany, given the abuses suffered under the Nazis and then the much-feared East German secret police known as the Stasi.

Going forward, the NSA will have to justify each spying request to the BND in order for its German counterpart to release related surveillance information which could provide assistance.

This is apparently already required for phone and fax surveillance, but there was a feeling that the NSA had reneged on a similar agreement regarding online spying.

Coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD) have demanded a list of BND surveillance metadata including IP addresses, search terms and names be made public in order to assess whether it was at fault in helping the NSA, Reuters claimed.

So far, Merkel has resisted these calls but will no doubt face further pressure if this latest attempt to rescue her reputation in the eyes of the electorate doesn’t work.

The news comes in the same week as a landmark US appeal court ruling that the NSA’s mass surveillance of citizens’ phone records was illegal.  

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Patriot Act didn’t authorize the mass snooping on US citizens, first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans,” wrote judge Gerard Lynch in a 97-page decision.

“We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language. There is no evidence of such a debate.”

The three-judge panel didn’t decide whether the surveillance operation was unconstitutional and it decided not to stop the program, pointing out that parts of the Patriot Act including the key Section 215 run out on 1 June.

It’s now down to Congress to decide what to do with the NSA’s bulk phone record collection program and the parts of the Patriot Act set to expire, and the courts could be forced back into action depending on what happens there.

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