The National Security Agency spy program PRISM collected the most data worldwide in Germany. Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger denounces dangerous data collection mania in a guest contribution for Spiegel-Online. She wants an explanation from the U.S. government.
Shortly before Obama’s visit, Germans are concerned about the extent to which the U.S. monitors the Internet worldwide. Is it true, as the media asserts, that practically every form of communication on the Internet can be examined and understood at the source? The Guardian and The Washington Post report that with the PRISM program, the NSA can obtain direct access to user data and read along. An informant was quoted as saying that the NSA “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.”
The denials of Internet giants like Facebook and Google followed promptly. One does not release anything without a court order. But doubts remain.
These reports are highly disturbing. Taken together, the truth surrounding the mania of data collection would have dangerous implications.
President Obama reacted over the weekend by explaining that one cannot have 100 percent security, 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. I do not share this assessment. A society lacks freedom all the more the more intensively its citizens are monitored, controlled and observed. Security is not an end in itself in a constitutional democracy, but serves the safeguarding of freedom.
Clear Restriction of Civil Rights
America has been a different country since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The United States' security architecture was drastically reconstructed. One goal was to interlink various institutions and to create a broad flow of information between the security services. Primarily with the Patriot Act, legislatively set into motion only a few days after 9/11, the tense relationship between freedom and security shifted at the expense of freedom. Laws concealed behind the Patriot Act were adopted at a rapid pace. They expanded the possibilities for surveillance at the same time as they created the possibility of imprisonment for the purposes of prevention of terrorist acts. In summary: With all due respect, effective counterterrorism and the security and freedom of citizens must be in appropriate proportion. The Patriot Act clearly restricted the civil rights of Americans.
Again and again this development was criticized internationally. President Obama, a specialist in constitutional law, had critically grappled with this development previously. The restrictions of civil rights and liberties that were enacted in the framework of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” have not been rolled back during Obama’s presidency.
All Facts Must Be Placed on the Table
A reminder: The strength of a liberal constitutional state lies in the trust of the citizens. Constitutional guarantees protect this trust and follow two goals: punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent or the innocent who have come under suspicion from unjustified measures of governmental authority. Those are exactly the lessons that Germany learned in 1949, in the tradition of the American constitution of 1776: In a free and open democratic process, the impression cannot develop that one's basic rights are not being faithfully protected.
The American statesman and author Benjamin Franklin once said: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The suspicion of excessive monitoring of communication is so alarming that it must not be permitted to remain. Therefore, openness and an explanation from the U.S. administration rank as the top priorities now. All facts must be placed on the table.
Without the global Internet, it would be impossible to imagine a competitive economy, the free sharing of information and the strengthening of human rights in authoritarian nations. Trust in these technologies is threatened to be lost through far-reaching surveillance measures.