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Germany is a country of freedom

“Germany is not a surveillance state,” Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed at the Federal Press Conference today in Berlin. As regards reports about the activities of the US intelligences agencies she said: “It’s not the law of the strongest that applies here in Germany and in Europe, but the strength of the law.”

On German soil you have to abide by German law, the Chancellor said. She added that when it came to data monitoring the authorities should not be allowed to do everything that was technically feasible. “The end does not justify the means. Not everything that is technically possible should also be permissible.”

Different security needs

Merkel also addressed the concern that the United States was secretly gathering data on a grand scale. That would “more than affect our fundamental right to postal and telecommunications secrecy,” she said. The German government was in talks with the United States, but that work was not yet complete and was still ongoing.

The Chancellor recalled that different countries had different security needs and that influenced their approach to various issues. Perhaps that was “something we should discuss with each other in the context of the European Union and the NATO alliance,” Merkel said.

The events of 11 September 2001, for instance, had been “a profound shock for people in the United States”. At the time Germany had promised the United States its “full solidarity”.

Responsibility for two important values

The German Chancellor pointed out that finding a balance between freedom and security was an “overriding political task”. She and the rest of the German government bore responsibility for these two “important values”.

More specifically, Angela Merkel said, that meant protecting citizens against attacks and crime – as well as against invasions of their privacy. “These two values – freedom and security – to a certain extent are and always have been at odds with one another. The proper balance needs to be struck again and again by means of the law”.

Eight-point programme for better privacy

The German government is also committed to better privacy protection at international level. The Chancellor presented an eight-point programme on European and international data protection.

1) Cancellation of administrative agreements

In the context of its bilateral negotiations the German government is endeavouring to have the administrative agreements concluded with the United States, the United Kingdom and France in 1968/69 cancelled. It would be urging these countries to conclude these negotiations “as soon as possible,” Merkel said.

The administrative agreements concerning Article 10 of the Basic Law between Germany and the United Kingdom of 28 October 1968, between Germany and France of autumn 1969 and between Germany and the United States are still applicable. They refer to the interception of correspondence, posts and telecommunications.

2) Expert-level talks with the United States

The Chancellor said that expert-level talks with the United States “about possible secret data gathering in Germany” would continue, “in Germany and in the United States”. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution had set up an NSA Surveillance Unit. The results of its work, she went on, would “naturally – as always – be reported to the relevant Parliamentary Control Panel”.

As regards the “very concrete list of questions” for the United States, the German government was “pressing the issue”, Merkel went on. That was why she believed the United States was becoming more aware each day that “this is an important issue for us,” the Chancellor said.

If she felt it was necessary, she would hold a further meeting with President Obama to discuss the NSA’s activities in Germany, Angela Merkel said. However, at present that “made no sense”. The questions were on the table, “our expectations are clear”.

3) UN data protection agreement

At international level the German government endorses holding negotiations on an additional protocol to Article 17 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

This additional protocol would deal with privacy and would “also cover the activities of the intelligence services,” the Chancellor said. The German government was working towards the EU Member States finding a common position. 

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force on 23 March 1976. Article 17 states, among other things, that no one is to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy.

4) EU General Data Protection Regulation

“At European Level Germany is driving forward work on the General Data Protection Directive,” Angela Merkel said. She pointed out that consultations were currently ongoing in the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Council. “We want the Regulation to include a duty to inform businesses whenever data are passed on to third countries.” Germany and France were cooperating on an initiative on this issue, she added.

5) Standards for EU intelligence services

Germany wants the EU Member States’ foreign intelligence services to develop “common standards on cooperation,” the German Chancellor said.

6) European IT strategy

Together with the European Commission the German government was endorsing the development of an ambitious IT strategy at EU level. This strategy would have to be “based on an analysis of European shortcomings as regards system capabilities,” Merkel said.

Internet security is a highly sensitive issue in Germany and Europe. The German government wants to turn that into a competitive advantage and encourage European firms to lead the way with innovative solutions. Europe needs its own successful providers of internet-based business models. There is a lot of catching up to do in this field. Young start-ups need to be motivated and supported more when it comes to turning their ideas into viable business ventures.

7) Round table on security technologies in the IT sector

Angela Merkel announced that a national round table on security technologies in the IT sector would be set up comprising representatives from the realms of politics, research and business. Experts from the Federal Office for Information Security would support the political representatives. “We need to work on implementing better security technologies, especially for businesses, to create more conducive conditions in Germany,” Merkel said.

8) Deutschland sicher im Netz

The Chancellor pointed out that the registered non-profit association Deutschland sicher im Netz (Germany Safe on the Net) would be stepping up its information campaigns “to support citizens and businesses on all issues of data protection”.

Jul 19, 2013