Germans Cautious About Obama's NSA Proposals

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President Obama proposed changes to address how the National Security Agency collects and stores information, especially with regards to surveillance of foreign governments. But Germans are especially skeptical that the changes will actually mean an end to American eavesdropping.


Last year, revelations that the U.S. had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone soured relations between the two allies. In Europe, President Obama's recommendations to reign in the NSA when it comes to listening to foreign leaders was met with a lukewarm reaction. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports that Germans are especially skeptical that the changes will mean an end to American eavesdropping.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The spokesman for Angela Merkel says her government welcomed Mr. Obama's efforts to reign in surveillance, but added that German law must be followed on German soil. He was alluding to the allegations the U.S. violated German laws with its phone and email monitoring. In an interview dubbed in German and broadcast by the ZDF television network last night, President Obama tried reassuring Germans that the U.S. will respect their privacy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will, for the first time...

NELSON: He said America will take into account the rights of citizens, regardless of their nationality, and use very clear criteria when engaging in bulk collection of data.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

OBAMA: ...establish a relationship of friendship...

NELSON: The president also spoke of his friendship with Chancellor Merkel and said U.S. monitoring of her phone would not happen again.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

OBAMA: harm that relationship.

NELSON: But German politicians say Mr. Obama's assurances aren't enough.

NIELS ANNEN: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: It's not OK when allies spy on each other, says Niels Annen of the Social Democrats, who are Chancellor Merkel's main coalition partner. He told the ZDF network, we need a binding agreement because while the U.S. president is working toward trust, control is better. Germany's justice minister told the Sunday edition of the Bild newspaper that trust between his country and the U.S. won't be restored until there is a legally binding arrangement between the countries to protect Germans' privacy. Politicians here are pressuring Chancellor Merkel to convey that demand when she meets with Mr. Obama in Washington in the coming months. The Germans want tough data privacy measures included in any free trade pact signed between Europe and the United States. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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