Merkel urges global data protection deal
"We should be able, in the 21st century, to sign global agreements," Merkel told the weekly Welt am Sonntag, in an interview to be published Sunday.
"If digital communication raises new questions worldwide, then we should take up the challenge. Germany is working for that," she said when asked whether an agreement modelled on the Kyoto Protocol that sets binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases was possible.
"This must be our goal, however ambitious it may be."
Merkel, who faces re-election in September 22 elections, has been under pressure for weeks to come clean with voters on what she knew about the US online surveillance.
She remains the frontrunner for the vote, and a new poll suggests the snooping affair is not yet a major election issue - but the opposition hopes this will change while the media are turning increasingly hostile.
The issue is sensitive for Merkel, who said last week she only learnt about the scope of the US National Security Agency (NSA) snooping through media reports.
Many Germans are angry that their emails, phone calls, web searches and other data have been captured and stored under the NSA programme.
In an interview with public ZDF television, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich called on the United States on Friday to provide detailed information on the NSA's PRISM programme.
He said experts from several European countries and the United States would meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the issue.
Snowden, whose passport has been revoked by Washington, has been marooned in Moscow airport's transit zone for the past three weeks, as he seeks asylum in a bid to evade US espionage charges for his leaks.
The Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Interior of Germany have examined the issue of a possible granting of asylum to the former US intelligence employee Edward Snowden, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"There are no preconditions for that. Germany is a legal state," the Chancellor emphasized.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping up efforts to head off the threat posed to her re-election bid by the scandal surrounding allegations of rampant US surveillance of Europe's communication networks.
Instead of Germany's solid economic performance and Merkel's deft handling of the euro debt crisis, the campaign for the September 22 election has been dominated recently by claims that her government knew the US was collating information from online services in Europe.
The uproar in Germany was triggered by US whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosures that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on allied governments and their citizens through the so-called PRISM programme.
In addition to speaking to US President Barack Obama on the issue, Merkel has also called for strict European Union rules on the protection of personal data and demanded that US intelligence services adhere to German law.
"The chancellor sees her job and her duty to protect German citizens," her spokesman said Wednesday. This includes both providing personal security and protecting people's private lives, he said.
Having so far failed to dent Merkel's commanding lead in opinion polls, the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have seized on the stream of claims about the US intelligence service collecting information from telephones, emails and internet searches.
The opposition has moved to increase the pressure on Merkel by portraying her as having mishandled the scandal and not protected German data from international spying agencies.
Underlying the risks for Merkel have been attempts by the junior member of her coalition, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), to bolster their weak poll numbers by taking the high ground on the issue.
The internet activist Pirate Party hopes the anger in Germany about the US snooping claims might translate into votes for them in September.
"(Germany) is going down the wrong road," warned the party's general secretary, Katharina Nocun, this week. "We are in danger of sacrificing democracy."
Opinion polls so far show that the revelations about the global eavesdropping by the United States have had little effect on the German election campaign.
Voice of Russia, dpa, AFP, RIA
German Minister of the Interior
In your opinion, was the trip to the US just a manoeuvre to distract the attention from the whole story? Was it just a diplomatic formality?
Obviously, it was the manoeuvre to distract the public attention from the chancellor to focus it on the minister. As far as I know, the minister of the interior didn’t ask our American partners questions that really interested us, such as “What is right about the espionage programme?” or “What is right about the NSA spying on German diplomats, EU offices and even the German government?” We didn’t get any satisfactory answers on all these questions. It means we need to contact Edward Snowden via the embassy or the prosecutor to find out what really happened and whether there is any substantial evidence.
What if Hans-Peter Friedrich doesn’t shed light on these questions in the course of today’s session? What steps forward could you suggest? What would you demand?
I’ve been demanding for a long time that the government should take advantage of each opportunity to contact the witness Snowden, who is at Moscow’s airport now, and find out what exactly he knows about espionage against Germany and whether he can provide evidence. I think that after we failed to obtain any decent explanation from the US this is the right way which will help us clarify the situation and know the whole truth about it.
Peer Steinbrück accuses Chancellor Merkel of breaking oath of office in connection with the NSA scandal. Is this accusation justified and if so - to what extent then?
The chancellor, as well as the government and each one of us, has a task to make sure that the German people’s basic rights are not violated. If Snowden is telling the truth, Angela Merkel failed to fulfill her duties. In this regard, Steinbrück is right that the government and mainly the chancellor are responsible because the German Federal Intelligence Service is directly subordinated to the chancellor’s office and to the chancellor herself. And one last remark: we are deeply interested in finding out whether the Russian government is ready to give as a chance to ask some questions about Snowden’s case.
A wiretapping scandal became another turning point in the election race for the post of the Chancellor of Germany. Particular displeasure of the citizens was caused by the fact that the government most likely has long been aware of the surveillance. Candidates for Chancellorship had to make urgent adjustments in their pre-election promises.
Wednesday, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert denied the reports that German officials knew about the US secret services conducting surveillance in the territory of the country, Der Spiegel reports. It is still unknown whether the official version of the government will convince ordinary Germans, who are already greatly concerned with protecting their data. The situation was commented on by candidate for the Bundestag seat from the Party of Pirates Bruno Kramm:
“What was most shocking for us was the information that responsible politicians have long known about the surveillance. There is evidence that the secret service of Germany (BND) often asks the USA for help when it comes to opening e-mails. The presumption of innocence as well as the freedom of digital communication is protected by article 10 of our Constitution, and it is flagrantly violated by this total surveillance”.
Although Angela Merkel holds a leading position in the election race, it is not easy for her. Hoping to get more points, she has even invited the US President to deliver a speech in the centre of Berlin. However, Barack Obama’s inspiring speech about friendship and partnership looks unconvincing now. Merkel had to drastically change her position regarding data protection. The Pirates have long been submitting this issue for discussion.
“Mrs. Merkel has noticed the indignation of the citizens and urgently demanded to solve the problem of data protection at the EU level, although she had long blocked it. We are pleased that she has changed her position, because we have for years now been trying to draw attention to data protection on Facebook and other social networks. Now, the time has come to ask whether the actions of the intelligence services represent a greater danger to our society, our personal lives and our freedoms than the threat of terrorism imposed on us. After all, we're still the US ally in senseless wars, for example, in Afghanistan. And now, the time has come for us as a nation, which took part in many wars, to finally leave these hot spots and take care of the personal security of our citizens in our own country”.
While European politicians are trying to get answers from the US or get some explanation of the current events, the most heated debates are taking place in Germany. The government of the country is exposed to harsh criticism on the part of the opposition, the Chancellor had to change her attitude to the issue, and the ruling coalition cannot resolve the dilemma, what is more important: security or protection of citizens’ private lives. The Party of Pirates prefers a defensive position and conducts training seminars throughout Germany, where one can learn how best to protect one’s personal data, e-mail and correspondence.
Voice of Russia