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'The USA knows that for us spying is a crime'
Obama with Merkel in Berlin on June 19th 2013. There has been a mixed reaction in Germany to his speech over the NSA's future. Photo: DPA

'The USA knows that for us spying is a crime'

Published: 20 Jan 2014 12:31 GMT+01:00
Updated: 20 Jan 2014 12:31 GMT+01:00

German reaction to President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated speech on Friday on the future of NSA spying has veered from skepticism to veiled threats with politicians suggesting legal action is a possibility.

Parliamentary chairman of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) Thomas Oppermann said on Monday: “A 'no spy' treaty must come. Obama’s speech on Friday can only be the beginning. The USA knows that spying for us is a crime.”

“The German justice system will not stand idly by if the efforts of the NSA blithely continue here,” he told Bild newspaper on Monday.

Magazine Der Spiegel reported on Monday that the Federal Attorney General, Harald Range, told the country’s Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, that there were grounds for a criminal investigation into the alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone by the US National Securtiy Agency (NSA).

And it appears the Minister of Justice, who is authorized to give orders to the Federal Attorney General, would not block an investigation. A spokeswoman for the Ministry confirmed on Sunday: "The Federal Prosecutor decides completely independently."

The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Parliament, Norbert Röttgen, also criticized Obama’s speech but said he wanted to avoid harming the German-US relationship further.

 “I have one criticism. Are secret services allowed to do anything that is technically possible? Obama basically affirmed this was the case,” he told broadcaster ZDF.

“We have a real problem, but I’m against an escalation,” the politician from Merkel’s CDU party added.

Meanwhile interior minister Thomas de Mazière welcomed Obama’s reforms in an interview on Sunday with television channel ARD. "It was a good and important speech and we welcome the progress," he said.

And Germany’s media greeted Obama’s statement with a mixture of hope and disdain.

The Berliner Morgenpost wrote: “Finally the American President seems to have grasped the extent of the breach of trust caused by the mass spying of his intelligence services.

“He has declared he will reduce the massive collection of data both at home and abroad and that heads of state and government will now be allowed to have a phone conversation undisturbed, but on the condition that the national security of the USA does not require [listening in].

“That leaves many questions wide open…The speech on Friday was, so far, little more than a glimmer of hope.”

Berlin’s Tagesspiegel asked: “What will change for non-Americans? They should rest assured that their rights will be better protected, says Obama. But who will guarantee that – and who will check it?

“The White House will in future determine which governments should be monitored, not the NSA. But there will be no end to the practice of spying itself. In all, Obama has disappointed the expectations of many Germans. That should not surprise us. He is the President of Americans and they think differently and carry on using the, from their perspective, traditional methods, indifferent to outrage abroad.”

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said: “It is evidently not the case that the US President does not care about the international outcry over the spying of the secret service the NSA and the criticism from his own country – regardless of which he takes the most seriously.

“The big surveillance net will no longer simply be swung across the land, the population and the world, as long as Congress passes the proposals. This will not be enough for civil rights organizations, but it is more than was expected. And it is sure to annoy the secret services.”

Volksstimme Magdeburg said: “At first sight, it seemed as if US President Obama would get through to his intelligence services, after the outrageous revelations on surveillance practices of his intelligence services.

“He would stop the huge collection of communicative data, the private sphere and the civil rights of all people should be better protected. And Obama is even expressly banning his secret services from spying on heads of government.

“But on a closer examination, Obama’s speech turns out to be a placebo for his critics, the effects of which will not last for long. When it comes to a matter of national security, the intelligence services are allowed to continue spying…Obama points out, quite reasonably, that surveillance must be permitted to prevent acts of terrorism. And yet it was under just this cloak that the mass collection of the NSA first started.”

READ MORE: Obama tells Merkel to not worry about spying

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