Behind the public admonishment of the National Security Agency’s spying techniques, Germany has been secretly in cahoots with the intelligence agency. The country’s national intelligence agency, Office for the Protection of the Constitution, arranged to share surveillance data with the NSA in exchange for high-powered spyware that excavated citizens’ chat and browser histories, and webcam photos, according to a German media report.
Some German officials have claimed ignorance of the arrangement. Former data protection commissioner Peter Schaar told Die Zeit, the German newspaper that broke the story, he “knew nothing about such an exchange deal” during his 10-year tenure heading the agency — a deal that gave the spy agencies the ability to siphon data on every move a user makes online.
The NSA has reportedly downplayed XKeyscore’s capabilities, maintaining the broad internet surveillance tool use is confined by law and only used on foreign suspects, the National Journal reported. The version given to Germany is supposedly used to survey domestic national security targets and gather online metadata for domestic targets. Officials maintain the software is used “in a manner consistent with German law and in a manner reasonably likely not to result in the targeting of U.S. persons,” according to the agreement.
News of the clandestine deal over the coveted spy software XKeyscore comes after very public criticism from European officials and regulators over the U.S. spying program, which resulted in the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone and using telecom and social media companies for backdoor access to citizens online data.
Germany unsuccessfully probed the NSA for tapping Merkel’s cellphone, citing the agency’s lack of cooperation. The investigation further chilled European-U.S. relations as European governing bodies openly condemned the NSA’s spy tactics. The 2013 Edward Snowden document leaks that revealed the U.S. spied on allies, including three past French presidents, invited scrutiny from foreign regulators targeting U.S. tech companies for their cooperation with the NSA.
The Court of Justice of the European Union heard arguments in March for a case against Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo, which accused the companies of violating Europeans privacy by sending private data to the NSA. The case could determine whether and under what conditions American tech companies can operate overseas — by adhering to strict privacy laws, which companies such as Facebook previously indicated as an untenable option.
The court admitted in opening arguments that current law regarding transatlantic data transfers didn’t protect citizens from foreign spying. In response, the European Commission’s lead attorney Bernhard Schima said, “You might consider closing your Facebook account if you have one.”