Monday, November 4, 2013

Germany Cools on Obama, Joe B Garza Explains

The June 2013 revelations that the United States National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) domestic surveillance program alarmed a great deal of the public. Although the NSA purportedly must obtain a warrant from a court before viewing substantive messages between Americans, it can compile vast amounts of data without a warrant. For example, it can log the activity attributable to a cell phone number or to an internet protocol address.

German Green Party politician Malte Spitz has written about his disappointment over the NSA’s activities. Specifically, he is troubled that President Obama has defended the activities. When the U.S. was attacked on 9/11, Germans, like many people around the globe, felt a great deal of solidarity with the U.S. That solidarity diminished as the tenure of former President George W. Bush wore on. The invasion of Iraq, the endorsement of torture by officials in that administration, and the indefinite detention of prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay undermined German confidence in American ideals. In Spitz’s views, this disillusionment struck Germans especially hard because many of them can remember living under the surveillance of the Stasi, the East German police. And the more distant history of Nazi Germany still infuses Germans with the determination to protect civil liberties.

As Spitz pointed out, he played a key role in having the German surveillance system in place several years ago struck down by the German courts. In 2009, he filed suit to obtain the data the government was collecting on him; after obtaining it, he made it public. The disclosure revealed that the German government could track his hourly movements and monitor with whom he was in contact. Spitz’s story helped spark public protests against the German government’s policy of keeping data on the most recent six months of a person’s activities, a policy that was eventually ruled illegal. This victory reinforced the idea among Germans that greater potential for security is not justified by increasing invasions of privacy. The NSA revelations, however, have caused them to believe that Americans may accept that trade-off.

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