June 27, 2014
US Spying Fears Leads German Gov’t To End Verizon Contract
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
"Countries spy on each other, we spy on others." Politician pundit and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer made that bold statement last year when details on the National Security Agency's (NSA) PRISM program were leaked and made public by Edward Snowden. The leaked documents showed that Washington had conducted mass surveillance in Germany and had even eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.
While it is true that "countries spy on each other," as Mr. Krauthammer emphasized, it apparently doesn't mean Germany has to like it – and more importantly there can be collateral damage when the eavesdropping is uncovered.
This week the German government canceled a contract with US-based telecom firm Verizon Communications Inc. This is part of a German effort to overhaul its internal communications, which was reportedly prompted by the public revelation that the NSA was conducting such a wide-reaching surveillance program.
Last year Berlin demanded talks with the US government on a "no spy" deal, but the United States was unable to provide the assurances demanded by Germany. The talks subsequently ended, and instead Germany launched an overhaul of its internal communications and secure government networks. Among the actions made by Germany was to address its business dealings with US firms.
"The pressures on networks as well as the risks from highly developed viruses or Trojans are rising," Germany's Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday as reported by Reuters. "Furthermore, the ties revealed between foreign intelligence agencies and firms in the wake of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) affair show that the German government needs a very high level of security for its critical networks."
Germany has been a leading European nation in the promotion of data privacy rights and freedoms and its strict policies have presented challenges for some American firms including Facebook and Google.
Verizon responded to Germany's canceling of the contract in a statement to VentureBeat: "Verizon Germany is a German company and we comply with German law. We have outlined our position on the inability of the US Government to access customer data stored outside the US in our policy blog."
The current contract between Germany and Verizon was set to expire in 2015.
The first question is why Germany has only canceled the Verizon contract and why it only reacted a year after the PRISM program was revealed.
"The mills of government bureaucracy are grinding slowly," said Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics. "They rightfully don't make rash decisions."
Recent rulings in the United States may also have been a factor and this could be the first salvo being fired by the German government.
"Not only is the NSA weighing on this but also the decision of U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis that U.S. search warrants extend to overseas email accounts and data stored in international data centers," Entner told redOrbit. "This would make the German government emails accessible to US courts, which is even more impacting than NSA spying as the German government email and data might become accessible to private US parties. The same scenario of a foreign court being able to seize U.S. House and Senate emails would be equally unbearable."