The discontent from Europe pointed to the breadth of fallout from the affair and to the potential for fresh strains between the United States and allies wary of American intrusiveness.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed to raise the issue when she meets in Berlin with President Obama next week, a spokesman said, and other German officials said they were concerned by the apparent monitoring of their citizens. Top officials of the 27-nation European Union also said they would press the U.S. government on the matter at bilateral meetings this week.
The PRISM surveillance program, portions of which were described in recent days by The Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper in Britain, makes clear that U.S. intelligence services now have the power to vacuum up data about telecommunications traffic across the world. An apparent snapshot from an NSA Boundless Informant database published on the Guardian’s Web site indicated that in March 2013, foreign intelligence gathering was primarily focused on the Middle East. For that month, more pieces of intelligence were gathered in Germany than anywhere else in Europe.
In Germany, where memories of East German Stasi surveillance remain fresh, privacy has powerful defenders. Individual German states have pursued cases against Facebook and Google in recent years, complaining that the companies did not do enough to give users power over their own information. The breadth and ambitions of the U.S. intelligence program far exceed any issues raised previously with private firms.
Merkel to meet Obama
When Merkel meets Obama, “you can safely assume that this is an issue that the chancellor will bring up,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters on Monday. Merkel grew up in the East German system, where the government collected vast amounts of information about its citizens.
Other German officials said they were unhappy that their citizens appeared to have fewer rights than Americans.
“I cannot be happy that U.S. citizens might be protected in an appropriate way — I’m not sure if they are — but we are not,” said German Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, who is charged with protecting the privacy of German citizens both from private companies and from governments. “In the Internet, we cannot distinguish anymore between us and them, inside and outside our country. It’s an international network, and the data is going around the world.”
He said that German users of American-run services such as Facebook and Gmail needed to understand that U.S. authorities had “broad access” to their data.