Germany seeks UK surveillance assurances

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger The minister had previously said the gathering of data sounded like a 'Hollywood nightmare'

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Germany's justice minister has written to British ministers seeking information about allegations of mass surveillance by British intelligence.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger asked if the surveillance by GCHQ was legal and if Germans were targeted.

Previously she had said the gathering of vast amounts of global data sounded like a "Hollywood nightmare".

Meanwhile, civil rights group Liberty demanded an inquiry into whether its communications were accessed illegally.

The Foreign Office said it does not comment on intelligence matters. Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament two weeks ago, though, that British security agencies uphold the law at all times.

Evidence leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian suggests that GCHQ is able to tap into and store internet data from fibre optic cables for 30 days in an operation called Tempora.

And GCHQ is also said to have accessed information about UK citizens from the US National Security Agency's monitoring programme, Prism.

'Germans fear spying'

GCHQ has insisted it is "scrupulous" in complying with the law.

Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger's request for more information from the British government came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced unease at the allegations in the Guardian.

The letters Ms Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger sent to Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling urged them not to lose the principles of civil rights.

She wrote: "In our modern world, the new media provide the framework for a free exchange of opinions and information. Transparent governance is one of the most important prerequisites that a democratic state and the rule of law requires."

The BBC's Berlin correspondent Stephen Evans said the letters asked four main questions: On what legal basis the spying program was executed; whether general information is collected and does it need a specific reason or is a more general trawl; whether judges had approved the measures; what data was kept and was it on German citizens.

GCHQ Leaked documents are said to reveal the amount of surveillance undertaken at GCHQ

Our correspondent said it is a real and potent issue in Germany because under the Nazi and Communist regimes spying on citizens was widespread and feared.

'Out-of-control snooping'

Liberty, meanwhile, believes its staff may have been targeted and wants security services watchdog the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to investigate.

The civil rights group said it believed its electronic communications and those of its staff "may have been unlawfully accessed by the likes of the Security Services and GCHQ".

It has issued a claim in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal contending that rights "under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act (the right to respect for one's private and family life, home and correspondence) have been breached".

Liberty's legal director James Welch said: "Those demanding the Snoopers' Charter seem to have been indulging in out-of-control snooping even without it - exploiting legal loopholes and help from Uncle Sam.

"No-one suggests a completely unpoliced internet but those in power cannot swap targeted investigations for endless monitoring of the entire globe."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    If the Government had nothing to hide, (Why they need the BBC).

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.


    If the GOVERNMENT has done nothing wrong, then it has nothing to hide.

    It is the GOVERNMENT that is acting in the shadows.

    It is the GOVERNMENT that is breaking laws any time it feels like.

    It is the GOVERNMENT that is "disappearing" people it doesn't like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    Our Gov. loves us. They want to protect us against evil-doers from killing us. If you have nothing to hide then you will have nothing to fear. But if you are an evil-doer living amongst us then you will be found and taken into custody for rehabilitation. If the government wasn't doing this then when evil-doers next strike everyone will complain why Gov. didn't act to protect us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.


    For 2 weeks, it seems many more important events around the world have been occurring, distracting BBC journalists..... such as a TV chef being man-strangled by her art-loving husband.

    The British Broadcasting Corporation clearly believes its licence-fee paying public does NOT need to know about their loss of freedom. BBC=gov't propaganda

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.


    There is a lot of money to be made with "Terrorism".

    Just think how many salaries over at MI5 are being made because of it.

    And what about Grumman and Northrop raking in their Billions. Ever heard of F35 ?

    Not to mention the Journalists who get to play tough guy with "important news".

    It is for these reasons that we are a long way away from reality.


  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    It is a citizen's duty to pepper words such as "bomb", etc., in all future electronic communications.
    More jobs for the spooks, don't worry the taxpayer will always foot the bill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    The world according to western government.

    Good is bad!
    Truths are lies!
    Government is good, everyone else are bad!
    War is peace!
    Pain is joy!
    Freedom is slavery!

    Ah... by jove... I think I've cracked it now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    Data is more important that people these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    So while the US and Brits are spying on "terrorists", drug dealing in our streets is as rampant as ever. Cocaine, heroin, etc... still gets into our countries.
    This only leads me to believe that the governments are only collecting personal and private data, not acting on it. What are "they" planning???

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    It was said a long time ago by a wiser man than me " those that sacrifice freedom for security end up with neither".

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    'abiding by the law'' ''

    isn't that what the big tax avoiders have been saying and rightly getting lambasted for it


    Tax avoidance isn't illegal, however devious ways of reducing a 'fair' tax liability do warrant the deserved lambasting ;)

    This whole picture...just an omnishambles. Someone just needs to put their hand up and speak the truth, no waffling. Route 1 apology required

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    I am making notes, captain. Your name will also go on the list! What is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Our modern conveniences such as the phone and the Internet are similar to air flight in that there is no explicit right to privacy. Their usage is a privilege granted, not a given right, and as such, there are costs - one of which is the forfeit of assumed privacy.

    If you knew the extent of snooping and video surveillance occurring on streets and shops you would be appalled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    What if the German request reveals that every country is doing this? Including the Germans? That would be a bit embarrassing wouldn't it? I wonder if it would stop everybody from doing it? It would be nice if it did but in short I suspect that the only thing that stands the UK and the USA out here is that they got caught.

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    Just look at the distraction the U.S. is creating by being all hysterical and even threatening at countries that may wish to give Snowden a home.

    Very well executed U.S.

    Jim Carney, you may be a good White House speaker, but your acting sucks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    What really gets under my skin by the 'Nothing to hide, nothing to fear' brigade..who are the same one's with the 'Shock horror, spys are spying' comments is they fail to see the bigger and longer term picture.

    The quote from the piece above...'under the Nazi and Communist regimes spying on citizens was widespread and feared' should be never know what type of Gov you get in future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    478. Thoughful - I agree wholeheartedly and join with you in sending our best wishes to the brave men and women keeping us save from those who would seek to do us harm!

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    Lots of people who are not suicide bombers fear internal spies because if they are not subject to some transparency it has been easy in many countries to subvert their services for political ends
    The Lawrence case has been so instructive in many respects but some police have been putting their own interests ahead of those of the public for some time

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    In Germany they thankfully have PR Voting, which means you can't rig the game like here in the UK or in the States. The result of this will mean rainbow German mp's will not let this one go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.


    If GCHQ truly believes that surveillance is the answer, they are daft. Anyone that wants their data to be kept secret simply sends it over a TLS/SSL connection - Email and data can be kept perfectly secure using public key cryptography.


    If you believe that, then could I interest you in 20% for moving $8 million from Nigeria to the UK for my late aunt?


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