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Communications Government Privacy

Probe Into NSA Activity Reveals Germany Spying On Germans 83

cold fjord writes The Local (DE) reports, "The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence service, spied on some citizens living abroad, a former lawyer for the spies told MPs on Thursday. Dr Stefan Burbaum ... said that some Germans were targeted as "office holders," a legal loophole the spies used to circumvent the law that protects Germans citizens from being spied on by its own intelligence agency. ... the German spies argue that a citizen working for a foreign company abroad is only protected in his private life, not in his professional communications ... "The office holder is the legal person," Burbaum said. ... "This construct of an office holder is just as absurd in practice as it appears in the law," Konstantin von Notz of the Green party said. Further, foreigners' communications conducted abroad are not protected, even if they are in contact with German people or work for a German company. MPs ... criticized the BND's ability to operate in a "lawless zone" when it came to spying on foreigners. ... the BND regularly retains traffic which it had not received specific permission to investigate which it collects during such trawls. In this way, access acquired under the "G10 law" becomes a "foot in the door" to otherwise closed-off sources of data, Burbaum said." The parliamentary investigation was initiated by reports that Chancellor Merkel's phone was being tapped by NSA, but later it was found that at least five countries were tapping Merkel's phone.
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Probe Into NSA Activity Reveals Germany Spying On Germans

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  • USA supposed to be a democratic country. Ditto for Germany and Britain, right?

    In USA, NSA spies on the American citizens while GCHQ spies on the Brits, and seems like the Germans are doing the same

    Is this one of the "feature" of the so-called "Western *democracy*" ??

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @06:54AM (#48496211) Journal
      The 'feature' is that this is treated as a nasty surprise, and somehow hypocritical or in poor taste. It's otherwise expected, or even exaggerated.

      That said, the one huge change that has likely given generally-wealthy-and-developed-western-democracies a (probably temporary) massive boost in relative spying scariness is the move to electronic surveillance, and the move of the citizenry to electronic media and devices on which to spy.

      When most intelligence gathering is human intelligence, or fairly low sophistication manual bugging/document theft/break-ins/etc. a visibly authoritarian system where secret police intimidation and coercion are routine, assorted invasive practices are fully legal or impunity is so strong that they might as well be, and so on, is most helpful for surveillance purposes.

      When the intelligence gathering is electronic, you can get away with a much softer touch; but you need an extensively 'wired' citizenry in order to have something to spy on, and you need considerable amounts of technical expertise, money, and infrastructure.

      While tech is just getting cheaper, and even absurdly squalid hellholes will probably have enough of it for a data-driven surveillance dystopia sooner or later, this did give a fairly massive relative bump in the spy power of 'nice' governments. Their attempts to replicate old-school Stasi stuff have been on smaller scales, and generally less effective(eg. NYPD vs. basically all the muslims in the eastern US, never mind that they are a municipal police force. The lawsuits they were many, the intelligence gains they were minimal, the whole thing was sort of an embarassment, and that was under the full power of the 9/11!!!! constitutional exception).

      They've had much better luck taking advantage of the fact that a huge amount of the world's electronic activity flows through areas they have access to and, thanks to cheap consumer electronics, now a huge amount of the world's communication foreign and domestic, does as well.
      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        You are leaving out the collusion that all these Western "Democracies" have. The US's NSA provided data to UK's GCHQ and Germany's BND when they wanted it, and exchange each of those agencies provided data to the NSA that they wanted. In some cases they could not acquire data legally, so they intentionally circumvented the law by making these back room deals. I'd not take issue if this was against China or Russia who are traditionally enemies of the "West", they did this against normal Joe Shmoes in thei

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In USA, NSA spies on the American citizens while GCHQ spies on the Brits, and seems like the Germans are doing the same

      The NSA spies on everyone, BND spies on individuals. There is a difference of a factor of a million or so.

    • by mjpaci ( 33725 )

      Germans spy on Germans...what else is new? It's a piece of national pride to know everything about your neighbor...except when they die watching TV and nobody finds them for 16 years. It seems that every time I hear about one of those happening, 9 out of 10 times it's in Germany...

      • by mjpaci ( 33725 )

        (I realize we're talking about the German STATE spying on its own people, which is different. My MIL lived in East Germany and tells stories of how you never knew which of your neighbors or friends was passing info on to the state.)

        • I realize we're talking about the German STATE spying on its own people, which is different. My MIL lived in East Germany and tells stories of how you never knew which of your neighbors or friends was passing info on to the state

          "If you see something, Say something." -US Department of Homeland Security

    • It has nothing to do with "Western democraties", totalitarian regimes are spying and much more on their own citizen. Very stupid comment.
  • by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @05:15AM (#48495989)

    They (BND) created several new theories:

    a) Space Theory: German law does not apply in space, so their satellites (or those from agencies of "friends") are not bound by the constitution.

    b) Function Owner Theory: When someone is acting within his/her capacity as a function owner, he is no longer a person protected by the constitution.

    c) The Meta Data Theory: Meta data does not contain privacy protected information.

    Thanks to Snowden this mess came to light. This now needs to be cleaned up. All three approaches will be shot down, with or without the governments approval.ï

    Most parliamentarians agree, that the intelligence services practically beg for a shorter leash. Power struggles and party politics will delay it, but they will get it.

    • But the fact remains that they will, in secret, violate the spirit (and sometimes even the letter) of any law passed. So how do you combat that?

      • by mseeger ( 40923 )

        My favorite solution would be by disbanding them. But that is not realistic.

        The German version of the General Accounting Office does a pretty good job of spotting squandering. So a new oversight should be established based on their model. That focuses more on depth than width and a non-predictive cycling of topics.

        Due to the nature of intelligence services, you will never get them really compliant (that's why I mentioned my favorite method), but you can curb them.

        • The German version of the General Accounting Office does a pretty good job of spotting

          wasnt the GAO guy actively spying for the NSA during the investigation?
              hmmmm no, he worked for Germany's Defense Ministry, all right then ....

  • by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @05:37AM (#48496047) Journal

    Gaming companies have dealt with issues like this for many years whereby players will attempt to engage in "rules lawyering" to get around the letter of the game's rules in order to exploit loopholes to essentially cheat to win. Game companies dealt with that by including a catch-all to simply say that if what you're doing is clearly and obviously designed to bypass the rules or exploit loopholes to gain an unfair or unintended advantage, you get punished.

    Legislatures could learn a lesson from this. For each law written, write in a catch-all such that clear and obvious attempts to circumvent the law by exploiting loopholes in the wording brings about similar or the same penalties as violating the law itself. For laws designed to control groups, such as intelligence services, ensure that everyone involved bears the punishment of violating the law. In other words, get the guy who ordered it, the guy(s) who disseminated the orders, and everyone who carried out the orders. Then also include strong whistleblower protections and rewards for reporting the worst abuses. When everyone from the top of the organization to the bottom has their ass on the line and when enough carrots are dangled in front of the guys doing the grunt work, stuff like that will unravel in a hurry. I love my job for numerous reasons. Would I risk 20 years in prison for it if the higher-ups decided to start doing illegal stuff? Not a chance.

    • Gaming companies have dealt with issues like this for many years whereby players will attempt to engage in "rules lawyering" to get around the letter of the game's rules in order to exploit loopholes to essentially cheat to win. Game companies dealt with that by including a catch-all to simply say that if what you're doing is clearly and obviously designed to bypass the rules or exploit loopholes to gain an unfair or unintended advantage, you get punished.

      Game companies do it because they depend on people playing the game stop make money, hence the need for a semblance of fairness.

      Legislatures could learn a lesson from this. For each law written, write in a catch-all such that clear and obvious attempts to circumvent the law by exploiting loopholes in the wording brings about similar or the same penalties as violating the law itself.

      While that may sound like a good idea it has a lot of bad implications. Laws need to clearly delineate what is and isn't legal. Part of the court's job is to clarify laws through precenets.If they don't, you would be abel to charge people with violating the intent even if they didn't do what was delineated in the law. It wouldn't just be serious crimes, either where conspiracy laws

      • Game companies do it because they depend on people playing the game stop make money, hence the need for a semblance of fairness.

        And societies based on the rule of law only work when people largely understand the rules to be fair and applicable to all. The "some animals are more equal than others" crap doesn't fly for long in a mature modern democracy.

        If you can be charged with breaking the intent how would you know what is legal? In the end a simple disagreement could cost you your job whether or not your position is correct.

        I think this is where we get into "clear and obvious". For example, if the law prohibits minors gambling at the horse track, but Little Johnny stands right there listing off bets to an adult who parrots those bets to the track employee taking bets, then hands the money for those bets to

        • And societies based on the rule of law only work when people largely understand the rules to be fair and applicable to all. The "some animals are more equal than others" crap doesn't fly for long in a mature modern democracy.

          Except it does, all the time. Any society where you can hire a lawyer makes those who can afford better ones more equal than those who have to settle for public defenders. Any society where court can order you to pay damages or where cases can drag on for more than a day is even worse,

        • I think this is where we get into "clear and obvious". For example, if the law prohibits minors gambling at the horse track, but Little Johnny stands right there listing off bets to an adult who parrots those bets to the track employee taking bets, then hands the money for those bets to the adult who hands it to the track employee, the law is clearly and obviously being circumvented and the entire intent of the law undermined by a simple loophole. (this actually works by the way, did it for years as a teen) Is this a capital crime that needs huge resources dumped into it? No, but ignoring it breeds disrespect for the law.

          Many laws in the US already have this provision, for example buying cigarettes or alcohol for minors is against the law; and so in many clear and obvious situations the law already addresses them. The problem is what is "clear and obvious?" You open the door for situations where someone does something perfectly legal but because some one else doesn't like it they wind up being charged with a crime; and it could wind up limiting you from doing something perfectly legal in another jurisdiction but "clearly an

    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      You can't do that because then all the legislators would get busted for bribery, which is what "campaign donations" obviously are.

    • Define "loopholes in the wording".

      There isn't supposed to be any loopholes in the wording of a law. That is why you have a bunch of elected guys making and discussing the laws, voting for them, amending propositions, etc. A law with loopholes in the wording is a law that should not have been voted for in first place.

      If you cannot find a way to word the law to avoid loopholes a catch-all clause will not do good to it anyway.

      • I'll provide an example I gave in another post. If the law prohibits minors gambling at the horse track, but Little Johnny stands right there listing off bets to an adult who parrots those bets to the track employee taking bets, then hands the money for those bets to the adult who hands it to the track employee, the law is clearly and obviously being circumvented and the entire intent of the law undermined by a simple loophole. (this actually works by the way, did it for years as a teen) Is this a capital c

        • Your loopholes don't have any loopholes in them. The gambling one, any normal anti-child-gambling law will cover that already. The kid is originating the bet, and no new provision is needed there. The fact that you did the crime and nobody at the track cared has nothing to do with what the law says, or what is legal. Also, the adult who helped you was probably acting as an illegal bookie. That's the thing; you may in fact have hit a situation without a loophole, but where you shifted the risk from the track

    • by Tom ( 822 )

      Legislatures could learn a lesson from this.

      omg, please no!

      I say that as someone who's running two games somewhat similar to the one advertised in your .sig and having similar rules in place, but also as someone having real-life experience with the law.

      In a game, the environment is very different. Everyone has at least one shared goal (playing the game), and a benevolent dictator has the meta-goal of keeping the game running for everyone. These assumptions are not valid in real life. A catch-all law would be exploitable and lead to tyranny.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      I'd add that all low enforcement agencies and intelligence services should be required to publish their justification for all behaviour, so that the public can review and debate it.

  • NSA Shame (Score:1, Interesting)

    by messi101 ( 3934459 )
    A shame NSA is so determined to use the technology it has at its disposal to breach our privacy both personal and professional, wondering what they want to do with all that droves and droves of information they been collecting over the years, all in the name of National Security.
    • It's simple: quantity over quality. And because they can. Beyond that, if they can get funding, they (NSA/BND/etc) will do it, because spying is what they do. They need no other reason.

      Of course the practical result is that they spend so many resources spying on the masses that they are incapable of doing anything else well. For example, they have the meta data on a large percentage of all the phone calls in the world, but they were caught flat footed by the rise of ISIS in Syria. If they spent 1/100 of t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    how the hell does FIVE COUNTRIES tap the phone of a head of government of a 'western' country? holy fuck. something is seriously messed up in this world.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, think about it for a second. You, me, and whole of slashdot would have guessed the phone is tapped. You really think the germans didn't know this? Sometimes it's a great idea to know or assume things like that, and then just let them be. If Merkel knows her phone is being listed she can use it for her advantage.

  • During the 1940s-1980s, all the West ran large intelligence services during the Cold War. The jobs were nice and comfortable, the budget was assured, and it was a good career. Working in its own little bubble, no one told the intelligence services what to do.

    Then the Berlin Wall came down. And by about 1995, we had a different world, with no obvious place for the spies. They were frantic for a new job, and started pushing to do organised crime, drugs, etc.

    Then came 9/11, and a whole new set of jobs for them

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Besides the U.S. National Security Agency, Merkel's phone was monitored by the British, Russian, Chinese and North Korean surveillance agencies, weekly news magazine Focus reported, citing an unnamed German security official."

    You can see they're trying to put out the "everyones doing it" line, but if the Russian, Chinese, and North Koreans had her phone hacked that would be odd, because the network kit is American, and we have confirmation NSA was doing the spying, yet America is not mentioned in the list.

  • phones (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday December 01, 2014 @09:49AM (#48497129) Homepage Journal

    Unfortunately, our government (I'm german) is full of irresponsible, power-greedy fools. Local television has highlighted some of these problems repeatedly (like ministers who, not in 1970 but in the 200s need to decide about Internet regulations but don't even know what a browser is). Unfortunately, one of the things that changed compared to, say, 30-40 years ago is that they've replaced the state-paid experts in the ministries with lobbyists ^H^H^H "external advisors", who are not only experts in their fields (good), but also paid for by private corporations. That's right, the people advising our government get their salary not from the government, but from corporations.

    I don't know if stupidity is a sufficient explanation, but our ministers including Merkel actually had encrypted mobiled phones offered to them by a special branch of the government responsible for securing the state IT infrastructure. They turned them down because it was more convenient to use market smartphones.

    Personally, I think that act alone should be suffient to bring them all up for trial on aiding and abetting treason.

    • Sounds like your government has finally joined the ranks of other proper 1st world governments like that of my country's.
    • As a foreigner I'd have hoped you'd be more offended by the faux-surprise at NSA spying, and the big whoopdy-whoop they made about it, when it wasn't news to them and they were doing it too.

      You seem bothered by the technical incompetence without being bother by the lying about who the enemy is, even creating a fake enemy that in reality is a friend (USA), in order to hide what they themselves were doing.

      If this is the common German attitude, then I think we can expect the German government to stay the same

      • by Tom ( 822 )

        You seem bothered by the technical incompetence without being bother by the lying about who the enemy is, even creating a fake enemy that in reality is a friend (USA), in order to hide what they themselves were doing.

        The fact that I didn't write about something shouldn't lead you to conclusions about my opinion on the matter.

        But frankly speaking, I'd rather have competent liars than incompetent idiots in charge of my country. For the former, you only need to be sure their interests align sufficiently with yours. For the later, you can never feel safe.

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