Germany still fighting a history of surveillance

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20,000 Germans protested their government relations with the NSA in Berlin Sept. 7.
AP Photo
20,000 Germans protested their government’s relations with the NSA in Berlin on Sept. 7.

Incensed Germans have taken to the streets to protest after a chain of documents and statements from former NSA agent Edward Snowden indicated suspicious relations between the NSA and Germany.

Twenty thousand people gathered in Berlin on Sept. 7 to protest the NSA and the German government’s handling of the situation. The protest was organized mostly by the opposition parties to Germany’s current government coalition.

Germans are exhibiting more frustration than some Americans over the NSA spying claims. While German government interactions with the NSA explain only some of the outrage, German culture and behavior reflect the people’s frustration.

“One very important thing to know is the historical aspect,” said Christian Clement, a BYU professor from Medebach, Germany. “Because Germans are so aware of what bad things happened in German history, they are a little more sensitized when similar things happen in the world.”

Government surveillance of citizens’ private lives ran rampant during the Nazi regime and the Stasi (Ministry for State Security) suppression in East Germany. Clement explained why even the protesting youth who did not experience this oppression firsthand have reacted to it.

“In the German education system, people are constantly confronted with the German past,” Clement said. “It’s a theme that is so present, many young Germans would say, ‘I don’t want to see any more.'”

Wade Jacoby, a professor in political science who specializes in German and Slavic politics, discussed multiple problems among upset Germans.

“There’s not a German complaint,” said Jacoby. “There’s many different German complaints.”

The protesting likely started when Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter who has worked closely with Snowden to reveal NSA documents, released information about an NSA data-tracking tool called The Boundless Informant on June 11. An image of the tool shows a world map on which each country is color-coded according to surveillance intensity. Germany stands out on the map as having more surveillance activity compared to the rest of Europe.

Snowden stated that the NSA is “in bed with the Germans” during an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel on July 7. This statement caused Germans to believe that their government has cooperated with the NSA on domestic spying, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s efforts to remain silent on the issue have not quieted the public.┬áJacoby said some other NSA actions have dampened German relations.

“They gather the information and give it readily to Israel, for example,” Jacoby said. “This has been a big topic of conversation in Germany.”┬áThe opposition parties to Merkel’s ruling party hope to turn the entire NSA issue against her in the upcoming elections on Sept. 22, although it is still unsure if the NSA issue is significant enough to unseat her.

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