All Germans are issued with — and have to carry at all times — ID cards, which have been electronic ID cards since 2010. Now, however, the German Parliament is considering passing into law new powers to allow the law enforcement and other agencies access to the database.
It would allow the agencies to access to German citizens' ID photograph, as well as other data, and share it — not only between German agencies — but also potentially with the country's allies abroad, which is a hugely controversial issue for many Germans.
There was a huge outcry when it was revealed that the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) was working secretly with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept communications within Germany, as part of a global mass surveillance program, originally exposed by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden — now living in temporary asylum in Moscow.
The news of the close co-operation between the NSA and the German BND intelligence agency caused consternation in the country, whose citizens are extremely sensitive to the protection of personal data.
It emerged later, however, from sources including former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that the US embassy in Berlin, overlooking the Reichstag, was being used as a base for a special unit of the CIA and NSA to monitor a large part of mobile phone usage in the government district. The BND was also accused of spying on commercial companies, including Airbus.
That would have been a clear violation of a Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in the wake of the 9/11, 2001 terror attacks, under Washington and Berlin agreed that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets.
When media reports began circulating that Merkel's own Chancellery department was aware of the operations, lawmakers in the German Bundestag set up an investigation committee to look into the affair and set up a new body to oversee the work of the BND.