Germans Find Little Comfort in Obama's Assurances Over NSA Program

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Elsewhere in Europe today, politicians condemn the Obama administration's data-snooping programs. At an emergency meeting of the European Parliament, lawmakers criticized those programs as "unworthy of a close ally". Dutch politician Judith Sargentini told the BBC that Europeans appear to have no legal protection against being spied on by the US.

Judith Sargentini: If it wasn't so sad I would have laughed last Friday when Obama said, "No worries, people. This is only for foreigners, not Americans." And the problem is this, the Fourth Amendment that protects American citizens' privacy does not fly for us Europeans. If you think your data is being used in the wrong way in the US, you cannot go to court and fight it.

Werman: Well, one European country that's very concerned about all this is Germany. Thomas Hoeren teaches teaches telecommunications law at the University of Muenster. What's been the German reaction to the leaks about the scope of PRISM, Thomas?

Thomas Hoeren: Well, it was really a shock, a big, big shock because Germany has the most radical and restrictive regulation system regarding privacy and data-protection, and when we heard that German citizens are stored in this data of the US government we were, of course, not only amazed, but we were puzzled and now there is a heavy discussion going on, "What can be do against the American policy?"

Werman: And remind us why Germans are so particularly skittish about this kind of surveillance and why the protections there are so vigilant.

Hoeren: We had the very hard times with the Nazi regime, there was a really big collection of personal data at these times, so Germans hate big governments collecting a lot of data.

Werman: So President Obama has been eager to reassure people around the globe that the US is not listening to your telephone calls. Do Germans find comfort in the "Hey, just trust us"?

Hoeren: No. I think Obama will get a big problem when he comes to Germany next week. The last time he was here, we saw him as a kind of hero, the big pioneer. We loved him, but now he will get a lot of critical debates and a lot of people will protest against him.

Werman: In recent years, Thomas, Germany has been active in going after big internet companies like Google and Facebook on privacy issues. Now, does the fact that these companies seem complicit in PRISM also affect the way Germans view them?

Hoeren: Well, this morning one of the most radical data-protection commissioner gave an interview in the Frankfurt [??] and he said this story in the United States demonstrated that everything he believes is right now and that he should even fight more against Facebook and Google.

Werman: Did he say how he's gonna fight?

Hoeren: Well, it's [??] on the one side which is a little bit not very effective. He tried to sue against Facebook, but he lost the battle. But he will push the whole matter in Brussels because this was a really bad timing. In Brussels we discussed how can we bring together the American system and the European system regarding a new data-protection regulation, but of course nobody will really believe all these American lobbyist which are running around in Brussels. So it will be a heavy push to have a strong and restrictive European data-protection regulation.

Werman: And, as you said, President Obama is going to Berlin next week, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. You suspect that these revelations about the surveillance program could make that visit a bit tense?

Hoeren: Yeah, I've heard already rumors that there will be a lot of protestors going to Berlin to have a chance at least to articulate their fury regarding the matter, and I think the newspapers will not be very charming to Obama I think.

Werman: Thomas Hoeren, telecommunications law professor at the University of Muenster. Thanks for your time.

Hoeren: Yeah, it's a pleasure.