Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s biggest phone company, confirmed on Saturday allegations in Der Spiegel magazine that it hired an outside firm to track hundreds of thousands of phone calls by senior executives and journalists in 2005-6.
It denied that the Berlin consultancy firm listened to the conversations, instead merely logging details on who phoned whom as well as the time and duration of the calls.
Der Spiegel said that “Operation Clipper” and “Operation Rheingold” were set up in order to identify the source of leaks of sensitive financial information to financial journalists.
Chief executive Rene Obermann, who was not in charge when the spying took place, said that state prosecutors and a law firm in Cologne were investigating the affair. Less than 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Stasi secret police in communist East Germany, Germans are particularly sensitive about infringements into their privacy.
Other firms have also been accused of spying on their own workers. The biggest such scandal involved Lidl, one of German’s biggest budget supermarket chains, which reportedly violated labour laws by by installing hidden cameras in its stores to systematically keep tabs on staff. Lidl even recorded employees when they used the toilet, their conversations while on break, and kept track on who their friends outside work were, reports said in March.
Anti-terrorism surveillance measures introduced by the government such as installing secret cameras in terror suspects’ homes and including biometric data on passports have also riled civil liberties groups.