Phone tapping report forces Merkel to acknowledge NSA scandal


US Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson leaves the Foreign Ministry in Berlin after being summoned by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday.


Sean Gallup

BERLIN, Germany — The supposed revelation that US spooks tapped the German chancellor's phone hardly came as a surprise here.

But some of the millions of ordinary citizens whose personal information is also being monitored by the American National Security Agency (NSA) hope the new evidence will force Angela Merkel — nicknamed “Mutti,” or Mommy — to finally acknowledge their concerns about the issue.

“She has always tried to pretend or assure us that this is not a problem at all, and there is nothing that is fishy or she needs to take care about,” said Daniel Dormscheit-Berg, an internet security expert and former spokesman for Wikileaks.

“At least now there's no more way for the chancellor to stay out of this debate, because she's personally affected.”

On Thursday, the German government summoned the US ambassador for a tongue lashing, and earlier this week Merkel herself phoned US President Barack Obama for reassurances after the magazine Der Spiegel reported evidence that the NSA had been monitoring her calls.

That's a significant reversal.

Although opposition politicians and internet activists have expressed outrage over NSA internet surveillance for months, Merkel has repeatedly downplayed the issue, emphasizing that Germany also depends on such practices to prevent terrorism, and stressing that Americans are trustworthy not to abuse the data they collect.

“She didn't believe it initially, because America is a friend for us,” said Sebastian Kringle, a 41-year-old newsstand owner.

Government eavesdropping is a larger issue in Germany than other Western democracies because of the legacy of the Nazi regime and communist East Germany, where Merkel grew up and which employed a vast network of informants to spy on virtually every citizen.

The chancellor was probably aware her phone wasn't completely secure. But outrage over allegations about the monitoring of calls made by Mexican presidents and millions of French citizens may be helping force her to take a stronger stance.

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Washington is keen for the European Union to revise new privacy legislation it passed on Monday that forbids European businesses from passing on personal data to the US authorities without first informing European officials.

But the latest scandal will make it harder for Merkel to lobby on behalf of the United States — as the White House had hoped — especially as the French push for putting the issue of personal data protection high on the agenda of an EU summit that begins today.

“What we urgently need,” says analyst Dormscheit-Berg, “is a really honest and seriously meant effort to investigate and find out what is going on.”