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Monday, July 1, 2013

German View of NSA, et al

For John, BLUFThe Germans, experts in having a surveillance state, give us a lesson.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

The revelations from Mr Edward Snowden is causing problems in our relationship with our European Friends.  This item from The International Herald Tribune was written by a member of Germany's Green Party, Herr Malte Spitz, who is a member of the German Green Party’s executive committee and a candidate for the Bundestag in the September national election.  Here is a link to his TED talk from July of last year.

But it isn't just Mr Spitz.  Here is an item from Germany's Der Spiegal, from Sunday, "Spying 'Out of Control':  EU Official Questions Trade Negotiations".

"We need more precise information," said European Parliament President Martin Schulz.  "But if it is true, it is a huge scandal.  That would mean a huge burden for relations between the EU and the US. We now demand comprehensive information."
But, back to the Opinion piece from Mr Spitz in The International Herald Tribune, titled, "Germans Loved Obama. Now We Don’t Trust Him."
BERLIN — IN May 2010, I received a brown envelope.  In it was a CD with an encrypted file containing six months of my life. Six months of metadata, stored by my cellphone provider, T-Mobile.  This list of metadata contained 35,830 records.  That’s 35,830 times my phone company knew if, where and when I was surfing the Web, calling or texting.

The truth is that phone companies have this data on every customer.  I got mine because, in 2009, I filed a suit against T-Mobile for the release of all the data on me that had been gathered and stored.  The reason this information had been preserved for six months was because ofGermany’s implementation of a 2006 European Union directive.

All of this data had to be kept so that law enforcement agencies could gain access to it.  That meant that the metadata of 80 million Germans was being stored, without any concrete suspicions and without cause.

This “preventive measure” was met with huge opposition in Germany.  Lawyers, journalists, doctors, unions and civil liberties activists started to protest.  In 2008, almost 35,000 people signed on to a constitutional challenge to the law.  In Berlin, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest data retention.  In the end, the Constitutional Court ruled that the implementation of the European Union directive was, in fact, unconstitutional.

In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up.  Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security.  Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone.  In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi.  Homes were tapped.  Millions were monitored.

Although these two dictatorships, Nazi and Communist, are gone and we now live in a unified and stable democracy, we have not forgotten what happens when secret police or intelligence agencies disregard privacy.  It is an integral part of our history and gives young and old alike a critical perspective on state surveillance systems.

When Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister from 2005 to 2009, pushed for the implementation of the data-retention law, Germans remembered the Stasi’s blatant disregard for privacy, as portrayed in the 2006 film “The Lives of Others.”  They recalled their visits to the Hohenschönhausen district of Berlin, the site of the former Stasi detention center.

They were reminded of the stories of their grandparents, about the fear-mongering agents in the Gestapo. This is why Mr. Schäuble’s portrait was often tagged provocatively with the phrase “Stasi 2.0.”

This is a long OpEd, so let us cut to the chase:
Even as a Green Party politician, I wasn’t impressed with Mr. Obama’s focus on fighting global warming.  While his renewed enthusiasm is appreciated, it served as a distraction from the criticism he is currently facing for allowing invasive state surveillance.  He cannot simply change the subject.

His speech caused many Germans to question whether Americans actually share our understanding of the right balance between liberty and security.  In the past, we celebrated the fact that both countries valued this balance, and there was huge solidarity with America after 9/11.

But the policy decisions of the Bush administration after the attacks — from waterboarding to Guantánamo — appalled Germans.  We were shocked to see this mutual understanding disappear.  Now we are not sure where Mr. Obama stands.

When courts and judges negotiate secretly, when direct data transfers occur without limits, when huge data storage rather than targeted pursuit of individuals becomes the norm, all sense of proportionality and accountability is lost.

While our respective security services still need to collaborate on both sides of the Atlantic to pursue and prevent organized crime and terrorism, it must be done in a way that strengthens civil liberties and does not reduce them.  Although we would like to believe in the Mr. Obama we once knew, the trust and credibility he enjoyed in Germany have been undermined.  The challenge we face is to once again find shared values, so that trust between our countries is restored.

Perhaps instead of including a quote from James Madison in his speech, arguing that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” Mr. Obama should have been reminded of the quote from another founding father, Benjamin Franklin, when he said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

"Stasi 2.0".  Now there is a tag.  What a condemnation.

The other thing the author puts his finger on is President Obama trying to change the subject.  "Even as a Green Party politician, I wasn’t impressed with Mr. Obama’s focus on fighting global warming.  While his renewed enthusiasm is appreciated, it served as a distraction from the criticism he is currently facing for allowing invasive state surveillance."

Frankly, it is embarrassing to be schooled by the Germans, of all people, on personal privacy.  But, yet, they learned from their experience during the Nazi era.  When we were in Germany on our first tour (1967-1970) we ordered a second phone for our home on the economy, so it would be easier to talk to family in the States when we called.  What we found was that picking up one phone cut off the other—when I asked the person at the Bundespost I was told it was for privacy reasons.

We need to further understand the privacy issues we face and then we need to fix the problems.

At the same time we need to ask how do we heal this rift with Europe, or is it not necessary? free polls 

Regards  —  Cliff

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