Angela Merkel’s Government Failing on Freedom of Expression
Alex GORKA 11.03.2017 13:45

Since 1999, Germany's intelligence agency (Bundesnachrichtendienst) BND has spied on journalists of various news outlets and their sources, including employees of the BBC, Reuters and The New York Times, Der Spiegel magazine reported on February 24, citing the documents of the German parliament’s commission investigating the US surveillance in Germany and the US cooperation with local intelligence. BND's selectors lists used to spy on worldwide communication included at least 50 telephone numbers, fax numbers and e-mails of journalists and newsrooms around the world. The German government, which likes so much to lecture others on human rights and freedom of speech, has made no comments.

German lawmakers are investigating the case. Media rights group Reporters Without Borders labelled the alleged surveillance «a monstrous attack on press freedom», and said it was planning legal action. The BBC has voiced dismay over alleged German spying on foreign journalists. «Our journalists should be able to operate freely and safely, with full protection for their sources. We call upon all governments to respect the operation of a free press», a BBC spokesperson said.

Under the legislation passed in October, the BND is permitted to direct espionage operations on foreign nationals as well as EU institutions if they aim to gather «information of significance for foreign policy and security». The legislation is widely criticized for not providing specific safeguards for journalists.

Since 2015, the BND has been under widespread criticism for its mass surveillance which has reportedly also targeted embassies of several of its EU partners and NATO allies, including the ministries of interior of Poland, Austria, Denmark and Croatia; US diplomatic missions at the EU and UN, as well as the US Treasury Department and Department of the Interior in Washington. Inside Germany, the embassies and consulates of France, Great Britain, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and even the Vatican, were tapped.

Back then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under harsh criticism over a proposed no-spy agreement with the US, including allegations that Germany’s BND spy service co-operated with the US the American National Security Agency (NSA) in the surveillance of European targets.

German media have reported that the BND spied on the NSA’s behalf in Europe and elsewhere – accepting from the US millions of so-called selectors or internet contact details, such as email addresses.

Last December, Wikileaks made public over 2,400 documents related to the German parliamentary inquiry into the surveillance activities of BND and its cooperation with the NSA.

Germany's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies have both recruited refugees as informers on security issues. Between 2000 and 2013, 850 asylum-seekers were asked by the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) to provide security-related information, according to the report from Der Spiegel.

It’s not Germany only. The same year, another snooping scandal hit media headlines. According to the Guardian, the documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that Government Communications Headquarters’ (GCHQ) bulk surveillance of electronic communications had scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organizations. Emails from the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, The New York Times, Le Monde, the Sun, NBC and the Washington Post were saved by GCHQ and shared on the agency’s intranet as part of a test exercise by the signals intelligence agency. The disclosure came as the British government faces intense pressure to protect the confidential communications of reporters, MPs and lawyers from snooping.

The United States’ NSA has been involved in the scandals while applying efforts to control each and every electronic communication. The British GCHQ is doing the same thing. Commercial spy software FinFisher (also called FinSpy) monitors citizens in at least 20 other countries. Global Information Society Watch's global report indicates that communications surveillance is a global trend.

It all takes place in the countries where leaders the leaders routinely deliver highfalutin speeches on human rights and freedom of press. Article 10 of the European convention on human rights gives journalists a strong right to protect their confidential sources of information. Snooping by intelligence agencies is a sure way to deprive people of their right to have aces to the stories governments and big business may not want them to know.

Surveillance practices are strongly resisted. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has joined an international alliance of human-rights organizations, journalists’ associations and media, to protect foreign journalists from surveillance by the BND. The campaign, launched last August by Reporters Without Borders, aims to include in the revised BND law a clause protecting journalists. The signatories of the appeal consider the global mass surveillance by the BND to be a violation of human rights and they regard the surveillance of foreign journalists in particular as a serious encroachment on press freedom worldwide. The initiative is joined by Amnesty International, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), German Federation of Journalists (DJV), German Union of Journalists, Netzwerk Recherche, Weltreporter, Freelens, Journalistinnenbund.

Despite all the spy stories and scandals surrounding the intelligence agencies activities, the German government has not done anything to address the issue. 2017 is the election year in Germany it the vote scheduled on September 24. No doubt, the Der Spiegel revelations will prompt many questions the government will have to answer. Looks like the migration policy is not the only issue Chancellor has failed to address.