Having experienced two dictatorships with notoriously effective intelligence systems, Germans are furious about NSA eavesdropping. Now they want to put even stricter rules in place — but without paying the necessary price.
So maybe I’m not in the best position to comment on the NSA spying scandal. Ten days ago, I traveled to the United States to stay in a vacation home on the East Coast. “As a patriot, I find that traveling to America has become unacceptable,” a colleague of mine texted me on Monday. In my own defense, I can only say that the scope of the scandal could not have been foreseen when I began my journey.
Since then, however, one has much to fret about. If I understand things correctly, the Americans are in the fast lane to setting up a state of hyper-surveillance in Europeruled over by data dictator Barack Obama. And all good Germans are united in their outrage. Even Sigmar Gabriel, head of the center-left Social Democrats, iscalling for prosecutors to launch an investigation into the head of the NSA.
Here in America, it’s hard to come by reliable information on the scandal. I open up the New York Times every day hoping to learn something deeper. But even though it’s the leading newspaper among the world’s left-leaning elite, it only devoted a small side section to the biggest bugging scandal in history. On Tuesday, it broke a pattern by publishing a piece about the uproar sparked by revelations that the US had bugged the EU diplomatic representation in Washington. But, of course, it only got a slot on Page 4, behind stories about Syria, Egypt and the lax lending practices of Chinese banks. In fact, the “Gray Lady” deemed its coverage of Wimbledon more important than writing about how the US intelligence agency has violated the civil rights of millions.
Different Concepts of Privacy
It’s hard to explain to Americans how Germans see this issue. Try telling someone from the US why we Germans have no problem sitting in a sauna full of naked people but get nervous when the Google camera-car rolls by and takes digital images of our houses. I gave it my best shot, but let’s just say this: Our concept of the private sphere is not immediately clear to people abroad.
I’ve also learned that it is no easy task to clarify to Americans why Germans are more than happy to consign their children to state care when they are just one year old but would go through hell and high water to keep their personal information out of state hands. In most cases, Americans don’t like the state nosing into their personal affairs. But, when it comes to internal and external security, they have resigned themselves to the necessity of government meddling.
For some reason, we Germans have taken the exact opposite approach: We delegate things to the state that we could take care of ourselves. But when it comes to issues we can’t do alone, we don’t trust the state to do them either.
The problem with American bugging is that it will never be exactly clear what we’re supposed to be afraid of. The threat is rather abstract — but that makes it all the more threatening.
To understand why Germans are so hyper-attuned to data-privacy issues, one probably has to look into our past. There is good reason for a land that has experienced two dictatorships — one with a Gestapo, the other with a Stasi — to be more sensible when it comes to the dangers of absolute monitoring.
Spiegel.de has the full article