State-backed Deutsche Telekom has proposed a ‘German Internet’ that would route domestic web traffic within the country, protecting it from the prying eyes of foreign intelligence operations, such as the NSA’s PRISM programme.
The company, 32 percent of which is owned by the German government, wants communications companies to work together, but critics argue that the idea is unworkable and is a marketing gimmick in the wake of reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone was hacked by US spies.
Any ‘German Internet’ would not work when Germans use websites hosted abroad, such as Google or Facebook, meaning government legislation requiring companies to host their services locally would be necessary.
There is also the argument that such a system would be contrary to the open nature of the Internet and any erection of digital borders would hinder its operation. Such an approach is more common in China and Iran, where governments limit what people can access and would be unprecedented for a developed country like Germany.
Spying is a sensitive subject in Germany due to the surveillance programmes of the Stasi in East Germany, which is where Merkel grew up. Last week, she demanded assurances from President Obama there her phone was not being bugged, but his response that the US “is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the Chancellor” sounded evasive to German observers.
Many have seen it as an admission of phone-tapping in the past, and the US has failed to deny this in subsequent queries from Berlin.
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.
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