German governmental Internet spying

This video is called Interview with Edward Snowden about PRISM [German subtitles].

By Peter Schwarz in Germany:

How the German secret service monitors the Internet

26 June 2013

The German authorities have responded officially with great restraint to the revelations of the whistle-blower Edward Snowden about wire-tapping by American and British intelligence agencies, although millions of German citizens are affected.

Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue during the state visit of President Barack Obama. They agreed on a “dialogue”, which has no political consequences. The German Interior Ministry sent a questionnaire to the British Ambassador. This is all. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert has emphasized that the Chancellor will not raise the issue at the EU summit at the end of the week.

German reluctance on the issue is grounded in the fact that the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) also spies intensively on the Internet, and is massively expanding its capacity to do so. The German foreign intelligence service also knew—at least partially—about the American and British spying programs, and has benefited from them.

The BND has systematically monitored international telephone and communications traffic since at least 1968, when it officially received the authority for strategic intelligence. In the context of the Cold War, practically every telephone call in both directions between East and West Germany was monitored by the secret services on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, international monitoring operations were not halted, but rather extended. From 1994, the BND scoured the international communications traffic for, among other things, clues to terrorist attacks, counterfeiting, drug and arms trafficking. Hamburg criminal law professor Michael Köhler and the taz newspaper filed a legal complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court in 1998 against this practice. After two days of proceedings the court dismissed the case.

In 2001, parliament expanded the BND’s powers to monitor email traffic to and from Germany, with the restriction that no more than 20 percent of international communications be checked. Supposedly, the BND is only able to check 5 percent.

As with the American and British spy agencies, the BND accesses information directly at main Internet hubs. According to newsweekly Der Spiegel, the largest traffic control “takes place in Frankfurt, in a data processing center owned by the Association of the German Internet Industry. Via this hub, the largest in Europe, e-mails, phone calls, Skype conversations and text messages flow from regions that interest the BND.”

Last year, the BND monitored one in twenty phone calls, emails, and Facebook posts, searching them with more than 16,000 search terms. Officially, German Internet users are not taken into account in order not to violate their fundamental rights. In practice, however, this separation is infeasible. Considering that other authorities (such as the federal secret service and the 16 state branches of the secret service, Military Counterintelligence and the Criminal Police) listen in to telephone conversations and Internet communications as well, Germany is one of the most monitored countries in the world.

The BND is expanding massively. A new headquarters the size of an entire district is being built on Berlin’s Chausséestraße, moving operations to the capital from Pullach near Munich.

In the next five years, the BND plans to hire 130 staff for a new subdivision for Internet monitoring and cyber defence, and is investing €100 million solely to improve its monitoring of communications. So far, this sum has only been partially granted. Originally, the BND had demanded €360 million.

Both the German government and the BND claim not to have known about the “Prism” program of the US National Security Agency (NSA) or “tempora” operated by the British GCHQ eavesdropping centre before they were exposed by Snowden. This is obviously untrue, as a senior Interior Ministry official has confirmed.

It was “known in general terms” that there are such programs, Undersecretary Ulrich Weinbrenner told a parliamentary committee on Monday. “No one who is a little familiar with the matter” could say that they were “fundamentally surprised” about this type of strategic intelligence operation.

The reason why the BND is feigning ignorance is because it does not want “its own work discredited by reports of the American and British programs”, the Frankfurter Allgemeine noted.

Despite paying lip service to the widespread public concerns over Canberra’s intimate involvement in the worldwide surveillance of phones and Internet communications by the US National Security Agency (NSA) revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the Australian political establishment is preparing sweeping extensions of the monitoring powers of its intelligence agencies: here.

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