President Obama says US is not tapping Angela Merkel’s phone – but Germans aren’t satisfied
The German Chancellor phoned President Obama yesterday to demand assurances that her phone was not being bugged, but his assurance that the US “is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the Chancellor” sound evasive to German observers. The accusation adds to calls for limits US surveillance, which this week helped lead to a tightening of proposed European privacy rules.
Who is listening?
Chancellor Merkel heard from German intelligence that her phone had been tapped by the US intelligence service, the NSA, according to Der Spiegel, and called the White House for clarification. The President promised that the US agency is not tracking her calls, and will not do so in future.
Many have seen it as an admission of past phone-tapping in the past, and the US has failed to deny this in subsequent queries from Berlin.
Chancellor Merkel’s ease with a phone has earned her the title the “mobile chancellor” (Die Handy-Kanzlerin), and she is known to have conducted diplomacy with other world leaders using mobile calls and texts. Like President Obama, she is a devotee of BlackBerry phones.
Her current device is one of 5000 ordered by the German government secured by a Secusmart: it is not known whether the US could easily break this encryption to access the content of her calls.
A few days ago, French President Francois Hollande made a similar allegation, but apparently Chancellor Merkel’s complaint is much more serious, involving a “sharp” rebuke that called the practice “totally unacceptable” and a “serious breach of confidence”, according to a statement from her press spokesperson.
She also complained that the US had been very slow in responding to questions about spying, which Germany posed months ago when Edward Snowden first leaked information about US surveillance.
Angela Merkel has backed the new European Data Protection Directive, which was passed by a European Parliamentary Committee earlier this week. Large firms had argued that the privacy rules were unnecessary, but the revelations of US surveillance have boosted support for the measures, which go before the full European Parliament next year.
It appears that the US has promised to mend its ways – without admitting it ever snooped on Merkel – and the White House says the powers will be working more closely together in future. “The United States greatly values the co-operation of Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “Both leaders agreed to intesnify further the co-operation between our intelligence services, with the goal of protecting the security of both countries and of our partners, as well as the privacy of our citizens.”
President Obama has launched a review of the way the US gathers intelligence, “to ensure we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share,” said Carney.