When even Zee Germans are staring open-mouthed at what they call "American-style Stasi methods" you know things have got a little out of hand. As Reuters reports, German outrage over a U.S. Internet spying program has broken out ahead of a visit by Barack Obama, with ministers demanding the president provide a full explanation when he lands in Berlin next week and one official likening the tactics to those of the East German Stasi. "The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is," Merkel's Justice Minister exclaimed, adding, "the suspicion of excessive surveillance of communication is so alarming that it cannot be ignored." While Obama has defended it as a "modest encroachment" on privacy and reassured Americans that no one is listening to their phone calls, the Germans reflect "I thought this era had ended when the DDR fell."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman has said she will raise the issue with Obama in talks next Wednesday, potentially casting a cloud over a visit that was designed to celebrate U.S.-German ties on the 50th anniversary John F. Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.
Government surveillance is an extremely sensitive topic in Germany, where memories of the dreaded Stasi secret police and its extensive network of informants are still fresh in the minds of many citizens.
"The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is," she said.
"The suspicion of excessive surveillance of communication is so alarming that it cannot be ignored. For that reason, openness and clarification by the U.S. administration itself is paramount at this point. All facts must be put on the table."
Markus Ferber, a member of Merkel's Bavarian sister party who sits in the European Parliament, went further, accusing Washington of using "American-style Stasi methods".
"I thought this era had ended when the DDR fell," he said, using the German initials for the failed German Democratic Republic.
Obama has defended it as a "modest encroachment" on privacy and reassured Americans that no one is listening to their phone calls.
Peter Schaar, the German official with responsibility for data privacy, said this was grounds for "massive concern" in Europe.
"The problem is that we Europeans are not protected from what appears to be a very comprehensive surveillance program," he told the Handelsblatt newspaper. "Neither European nor German rules apply here, and American laws only protect Americans."