Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich was forced to endure howls of mockery from the opposition on Monday during a special debate in the German parliament on the activities of the NSA.
Having returned empty-handed from a trip to Washington during the summer, following the initial revelations about the NSA operations against German citizens' data, Friedrich stuck to an old argument – that the most important thing was maintaining good relations with the US.
The main problem, he told the German parliament, was not that the US secret services were spying on the German people, but that Washington was keeping quiet. “Unfortunately the reticence of our American partners leads to conspiracy theories,” he said.
Several opposition members of parliament could not even wait for the end of his speech to unleash their scorn: “Even the #SPD is laughing,” tweeted the Green party’s Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, referring to the centre-left Social Democrats, expected to form the next coalition government with Friedrich’s conservatives.
Friedrich said it was time for “the Americans to explain.” But what questions have been left unanswered? Here is the Local’s list of seven questions that Friedrich should ask the US government. And hopefully they will be a little more searching than the ones he asked during the summer.
1) To what extent is Germany’s internet traffic still being trawled by the NSA?
While President Barack Obama has since assured Chancellor Angela Merkel that her own mobile phone is not being spied on (at the moment), no such assurances have been made about the mass collection of emails sent across the Atlantic.
2) If Snowden was brought to Germany, would the US demand his extradition?
As Green Party parliamentarian Hans-Christian Ströbele said in the debate on Monday, “If Edward Snowden is not a classic state witness then I don’t know what a state witness is.” When Ströbele visited Snowden in Moscow in late October, the veteran politician said the former NSA contractor had expert knowledge of the documents he leaked, but at the moment he cannot be brought to Germany to testify to an investigative committee because he cannot be guaranteed asylum before making the trip.
3) What can the US offer Germany to make up for the spy claims?
Washington has briefed that Secretary of State John Kerry will take a trip to Germany as soon as the new government is in office to patch up the diplomatic damage caused by the Snowden revelations. But will he make any concrete proposals?
4) Would the mooted “no spy deal” be worth the paper it is written on?
The heads of Germany’s secret services – the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) and the Verfassungsschutz – met the head of the NSA in early November to discuss whether they would agree a pact to not spy on each other’s governments. But could such a deal be taken seriously by either side given that the Snowden documents reveal that the German intelligence agencies have used information gleaned from NSA programmes?
5) Is there any point in the German government encrypting its communications data?
The NSA can now crack much of the encryption technology on the internet, so what is the point of it? Will they continue to spy on German politicians by trying to crack the latest software being put on their mobile phones?
6) Will the NSA stop circumventing US law by using European servers?
Many of the NSA’s programmes play jurisdictional games to circumvent US laws by hacking into Google and Yahoo data centres outside US territory to spy on US citizens. A change in US law could put a stop to this.
7) Why would the NSA and Britain's GCHQ need to know the hotel reservations of German government diplomats and delegations around the world?
According to Der Spiegel magazine, British intelligence agency GCHQ has been running a top secret programme called “Royal Concierge” to keep tabs on hotel reservations of government representatives, apparently in order to bug hotel rooms in advance.