Hello Big Brother – What “Merkelphone” means for the U.S – German Relationship

German media are upset in a way I have never seen before. Even conservative editors who mostly have a pro american view point out the political explosive force of this topic. They ask: Are we an enemy of the U.S?

It feels strange today to live in the United States as a German. To live in a country which probably monitors all the electronic communication you do, even if it analyzes it or not. To live in a country which secret services are able to monitor all online or phone communication. A country that does not recoils to monitor the government leaders and presidents of other countries. Okay, one could expect that from enemy countries. But not from friends. It is nearly safe the U.S. secret services monitored or monitor the communication of the the german government including chancellor Angela Merkel and 34 other countries. German media are upset in a way I have never seen before. Even conservative editors who mostly have a pro american view point out the political explosive force of this topic. They ask: Are we an enemy of the U.S? Even the main German news TV-show “Tagesschau” doubts the friendship between Germany and the U.S. by calling them our “allegedly american friends”.

After months Merkel starts acting

It all began yesterday when chancellor Angela Merkel called president Barack Obama and expressed her anger. Now, after the german election campaign is over Merkel and her government stand there dump for they scotched the discussion about privacy policy a few weeks ago with pointing out that no german law is hurt by the U.S secret services. Why? Because Angela Merkel had “no reason to distrust” the NSA and president Obama. Now she has. When the scandal reached Merkel she gave up her naive attitude about the american behavior. For the first time in history the german government summoned the U.S embassador, which is a hard diplomatical decision especially when countries have a peaceful and friendly relationship like Germany and the U.S have. Merkel worked close together with Obama who just pointed out he calls her when she wants to know her attitude. Their common goal is to prevent terroristic attacks, as well as the secret services of the countries work together to prevent them. This might be the official reason for spying on other countries – and one reason for Merkels naive behavior during the last weeks. At least the german police could only prevent a few terroristic attacks because of hints the U.S secret services gave. But this cause doesn’t count anymore.

A world wide war on data

As the german public broadcast documentation “World Wide War” points out, we are at war. At an invisible cyber war with the goal to get as much as data as possible to be able to do better economical and political decisions. It is much easier to negotiate when you know what your opposite exactly wants and is able to do, for example if the topic is an economic free trade zone between the U.S. and Europe. Furthermore you can support your local economy when you know the strenghts, weaknesses and developments of foreign companies. It seems unrealistic that Barack Obama does not know what the NSA and other services do. Instead it probably fits to his current strategy in foriegn politics. Maybe this is the way the U.S. deal with global economic changes, in a time when countries like China, Brazil or India rise and threaten the U.S. status as the only global super power. Maybe it is their way to defend their position. To be fair it is not clear whether nearly every country spies on other countries for economical and political reasons. Probably it is usual in todays digital world. Who knows where Germany spies for which reasons? Nevertheless it is the american secret service NSA who is criticized and not a german. The german public is upset about these spyings, maybe because of the unbelivable imagination that the U.S monitors Germany. The idea that Germany could also spy on other countries is just more unbelivable. Finally we have to be thankful to Edward Snowden to leak all this information. We needed the debate about privacy after all the technological developments of the last decade which totally changed our way to communicate.

We need a stronger European Union

In the U.S. editors worry more about the fact that Merkel called Obama than their secret service monitors world leaders communication. Instead of asking more questions they try to play down the german commotion. It would have historical reasons that germans are more upset about monitoring and spying. Though they began to ask themselves which impacts this newest developments could have for the U.S. and its relationship to other countries who could start to see the U.S. more as an aggressor than as a friend like other countries already do for historical reasons. Certainly the E.U. begins to pay more attention to privacy policy. Just a few days ago the E.U. parliament voted to stop the swift agreement with the U.S. which allows the U.S. to monitor bank data of european citizens in case of terror suspect. The politicians said the U.S. seems to abuse its rights in this agreement. Another impact could be the planned free trade agreement. Former german chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück of the Social Democrat Party claimed weeks ago the E.U. should stop the negotiations until the NSA issue is solved. What seemed overcareful looks now totally true. The whole issue could have one positive impact from my european point of view: Maybe it helps Europe to speak and act more with one united voice. Only a strong European Union can compete with the U.S. and other growing markets and countries like China, Russia or India. In this rare case, all countries have the same opinion. However, the issue lets a big mistrust between countries grow. It will take a while until the former trust is restored. What we personally learn: Maybe it is better to send pigeons to communicate if we don’t want others to monitor.

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