Germany's Angela Merkel cries foul on US intercepting her cell phone calls

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Germany is paraphrasing Ricky Ricardo today, America's "got some 'splainin' to do." The German Foreign Ministry summoned the American ambassador today and told him Germany wants an honest and full explanation of US surveillance operations in Europe, and Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated her concerns that her own mobile phone was being monitored. Today, she told a European summit that spying among friends is simply not done. The US denies it, but the Europeans are not convinced. Journalist Ryan Gallagher has been reporting for Slade on the arguments in Europe over the legality of the surveillance. He's also a fellow at the New America Foundation. Tell us what the Europeans are so upset about, first of all, Ryan.

Ryan Gallagher: Well, they are very aggrieved that, I think it's mainly the scale of some of the surveillance that's being disclosed that some of the governments over in Europe just claim that they had no idea it was going on. I mean we're talking about millions of communications and records of people's phone calls being monitored, so there's just a lot of fury about it, I think mainly because the leaders don't seem to have been briefed on a lot of these things, or so they claim, by the Americans. So they're very angry about that.

Werman: And now that they do know, where do the real legal issues lie?

Gallagher: In Europe, they feel what's gone on is a violation of various treaties. For instance, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because that enshrines the fundamental right to privacy of communications. And it's also a likely violation of the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations because the NSA seems to be tapping the phones of politicians and diplomats in Europe, but I can't really see this going through any sort of criminal court or anything like that. That would be too politically contentious.

Werman: And how do those legal issues stand up that you just listed? How do they stand up when France and Germany are also spying? There've been numerous allegations that France spied on its citizens, Der Spiegel reported back in July that Germany worked with the NSA to spy on Germans. I mean does that matter? Does that count?

Gallagher: Yeah, well I think that does matter and definitely there's an element of hypocrisy here. However, I think that the cale of outrage from some of the politicians, some of the lawmakers in Europe, it's because they're concerned about the US creeping into other countries in a way that they don't really realize is going on. So while the French might be monitoring their own citizens, the Germans too, I don't think that the Germans will be tapping into American communications or American territories.

Werman: Have you heard of Europeans bringing up the perennial issue of American exceptionalism, you know, why America things it's okay to surveil other countries, but not other countries surveil the US?

Gallagher: I mean I think that does come into it because the argument that's being put forward quite aggressively by spokespeople for the administration, for the White House, they said well, you know, this is what we do...we're trying to protect the world kind of thing. And you know, especially in Germany where they have this legacy of a very sort of scarred memory having to do with surveillance, they just take offense to any type of mass interest of surveillance. And I think that argument doesn't cut it in Europe or some nations.

Werman: Ryan, before I let you go I have to ask you this curiosity question, does anybody in Europe really think Angela Merkel does serious business over her mobile phone? I mean isn't she just like making restaurant reservations or something?

Gallagher: Well, you know, that's an interesting point because working in this field for a few years on issues of surveillance, you would be very surprised to learn of the terrible information security that high level of officials in certain governments have. You know, they don't use encrypted telephones. They sometimes use personal email accounts to conduct official business and things like that, so you know, it wouldn't surprise me if Merkel had used a normal consumer Blackberry to do some sort of governments business. I don't know that, but it wouldn't surprise me. I certainly think that she'll be changing her behaviors now that these leaks have come out about the alleged tapping of her phone.

Werman: Yeah, she better be changing it now. Ryan Gallagher, journalist and future Tense Fellow at the New America Foundation, thank you.

Gallagher: No problems, thanks then.