Die Linke (Left Party) and the Green party politicians from a parliamentary committee currently investigating German-American spying activities had launched the case in an effort to have intelligence agency BND release a so-called “selectors list” of targets provided by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to Germany.
Radar domes belonging to German intelligence agency the BND in Bavaria. Photo: DPA.
The list contains identifiers such as IP addresses, phone numbers and email addresses used to search for specific people.
The committee members had wanted to view the list, but the German government refused, instead appointing a “trusted person” to evaluate the list and then inform the committee.
The Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that the BND could keep the list classified, arguing that the government’s interest in confidentiality was more important than the interests of the parliamentary committee to receive more information.
The court further explained that publishing the list of selectors without the consent of the US could affect the functioning of intelligence agencies and therefore Germany’s security capacity.
The ruling had been made last month, but was only released on Tuesday.
“A large piece of the years of illegal operations by the BND will remain in the dark,” said Green party commitee member Konstantin von Notz in reaction to the court decision.
“Further scandals and massive violations of fundamental rights are inevitable.”
“This decision signals that the intelligence agencies are able to continue to do what they want, undisturbed by parliamentary checks,” said Left party committee member Martina Renner, adding that it was a “fatal sign” just days after the election of Donald Trump to be the next US president.
Germany had reacted with outrage when information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that US agents were carrying out widespread tapping worldwide.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany where state spying on citizens was rampant, declared repeatedly that “spying among friends is not on” while acknowledging Germany's reliance on the US in security matters.
But when it also emerged that Germany had worked with the NSA to spy on European allies – including companies and politicians – the government started to implement reforms of the BND, replacing its boss, beefing up oversight of the agency directly from Merkel’s office, and overhauling the list of duties the agency carries out for the NSA.
A leaked report by the government's representative for data protection in September accused the BND of massive breaches of the constitution for its involvement with the NSA, writing that the agency “systematically and regularly” violates German law.