Germany to curtail NSA spying


Ronald Pofalla, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, discussed the ongoing NSA surveillance first before a German parliamentary committee and then in front of the media. His biggest concern was not just the information leaked by Edward Snowden which exposed the extent of the United States' global data surveillance operations, but the cooperation of German intelligence services as well. For a long time, Merkel tried to ride out the scandal; whenever she addressed the issue, she either spoke in vague terms or she simply said that she could not seriously be expected to be involved in everything.



However, Merkel and her team decided on a change of strategy. So far, the scandal hasn't hurt her party, but the case has the potential to harm Merkel's image as a prudent leader. This was one of the reasons Pofalla, who is also the senior Chancellery official tasked with coordinating Germany's intelligence activities, decided to address the sensitive subject. Last Monday, he was questioned by the Parliamentary Control Panel, the body of the  German parliament, the Bundestag, assigned to keep tabs on the activities of the country's intelligence agencies. From the standpoint of Merkel's team, this has two advantages; it enabled Pofalla to avoid the embarrassing situation of being quoted by members of the leading opposition party, and by making himself the target for attacks from the opposition, he effectively took the chancellor out of the line of fire.

But while Merkel and her ruling cabala decided to take a ‘no stance’ on the issue the leading German mobile and Internet providers, Deutsche Telekom and United Internet announced recently that they were joining forces in a project dubbed “E-Mail Made in Germany,” which would see all emails sent from the T-Online, GMX or Web.de services automatically encrypted.

The head of Deutsche Telekom, Rene Obermann told reporters at a press conference in Berlin that the two companies had agreed to enhance email security, due to customers' concerns in light of the US National Security Agency snooping scandal.
"Germans are deeply unsettled by the latest reports on the potential interception of communication data," Obermann said, referring to revelations made by former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden.



He added that German customers should be able to “bank on the fact that their personal data online is as secure as it possibly can be.” Under the new system, the contents, attachments and metadata of the emails are to be encrypted while in transit between the sender and receiver. The data is to be available in an unencrypted state on the companies' servers but any access to third parties, such as prosecutors, is to be granted only in compliance with German law. This, United Internet boss Ralph Dommermuth, told the same press conference, meant that it would be impossible for any “foreign jurisdictions” to gain access.

Initially, the encryption rules are only to apply to emails sent between the addresses from T-Online, GMX or Web.de, but the two companies claim that these account for about 50 million or two thirds of the primary email addresses in Germany.

The move was widely praised in Germany, with Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich saying automatically encrypting the emails would “make it more difficult for unauthorized to gain access.”
Friday's announcement comes at a time when an increasing number of Germans say they have lost faith in the trustworthiness of internet providers. A recent survey by Bitkom, the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, found that more than half of the population has either less trust or completely lost trust in the industry.

A contributing factor to this loss of trust have been allegations that US-based companies such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft have collaborated with the NSA, something each has strongly denied.

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