Prism case prompts Merkel to seek tougher EU data protection laws

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to push for tougher EU data protection rules and force Internet firms to be more open as she tried to reassure voters before a September election about intrusive snooping by US intelligence in Germany.

 

In an interview with ARD television on Sunday (14 July), Merkel also said she expected the United States to stick to German laws in future, the closest she has come to acknowledging that its spying techniques may have breached German rules.

The question of how much Merkel and her government knew about reports of intrusive surveillance by the US National Security Agency in Germany has touched a raw nerve and could yet affect the outcome of September's election.

Merkel said tighter European rules were needed.

"Germany will make clear that we want Internet firms to tell us in Europe who they are giving data to," she told ARD.

"We have a great data protection law. But if Facebook is registered in Ireland, then Irish law is valid, and therefore we need unified European rules," she said, adding that people were rightly worried about what happened to data outside Germany.

"Germany will take a strict position," she said.

Last month, American officials confirmed the existence of an electronic spying operation codenamed Prism. Former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden said it collects data from European and other users of Google, Facebook, Skype and other American companies.

In a separate leak, the United States was accused of eavesdropping on EU and German offices and officials.

Merkel clearly pointed the finger at the United States.

"I expect a clear commitment from the US government that in future they will stick to German law," she said.

Government snooping is a particularly sensitive subject in Germany due to the heavy surveillance of citizens practised in the communist East and under Hitler's Nazis. A magazine report last week saying German spies were colluding with the NSA caused outrage.

Merkel dispatched her interior minister to Washington last week to get answers on the spying but he has been derided by opposition parties for failing to present any US assurances or concessions.

The scandal is turning into an election issue and Merkel, tipped to win a third term, needs to make sure she does not give the impression that she knew more than she has let on.

Her opposition Social Democrat rival Peer Steinbrück accused Merkel of failing to live up to her oath.

"Mrs Merkel swore the oath of office to protect the German people from harm. Now it emerges that German citizens' basic rights were massively abused," he told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "I have a different view of protecting the people from harm."

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