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  • Konrad Werner: Hypocritical high horses


Konrad Werner: Hypocritical high horses

Now that President Obama is safely tucked up back home, German politicians this week fired off a string of outraged demands to the UK about their surveillance programmes. Where were they last week?

Image for Konrad Werner: Hypocritical high horses
“Bathing the Red Horse” by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

No sooner was President Obama back home, playing golf and hunting dissidents, suddenly, on Tuesday, Germany’s freedom-loving politicians located their high horses, got up on them, and raced around, yelping and whooping and firing arrows at their hapless British fellows, who had circled their wagons in a desperate last-ditch attempt to protect and justify their spy programmes. (These were pretty extensive: apart from Project Tempora, we found out that if you are living in Germany and ever sent an email to the United States, it probably got flashed along the 15,000-kilometre fibre-optic cable that goes through UK territory, where it may well have been sifted out and read by Britain’s secret service communications arm GCHQ – before plunging across the Atlantic into the CIA filters.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (of the FDP) gleefully rattled off her high-horse letters to British ministers. Boy, was she mad. She “stressed widespread concerns” and “demanded to know the extent to which German citizens have been targeted” and asked for “clarification of the legal basis” of all the British snooping.

The other parties couldn’t wait to stick their similarly angry oars in. The SPD’s Thomas Oppermann had apparently once read a book by George Orwell that all this reminded him of, Markus Ferber snorted that he “thought the Stasi times were over,” and the Green party’s Konstantin von Notz banged on about all the international laws that had been broken.

But all this was craven opportunism (right down to the minister’s decision to send her letters on the anniversary of Orwell’s birth, as if to summon his righteous ghost). In fact, Germany’s own interest in spying on its own citizens is just as far-reaching and urgent as Britain’s. As the brilliant “Publikative” blog laid out in detail, not only has the German police been testing various drones for catching “hooligans” for years, but one regional government has just passed a law giving its police force even greater surveillance powers.

As of this Monday, July 1, the secret service in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has the right to gather IP addresses, read emails, and get passwords without parliamentary or judicial review. While the entire German press covered Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s proud, righteous letters to the UK, this legislative hijacking was only noticed by a few regional papers. I wonder what happened to Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s angry letter to the government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern? It must have got lost in the post. Hang on… Someone must have seen it.