German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has welcomed changes announced by the US to the way it conducts online surveillance. However, he said the task of keeping the Internet free of prying eyes was far bigger.
In an interview with the German television channel ARD on Sunday evening, de Maiziere welcomed US President Barack Obama's announcement of reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA).
The German interior minister contradicted a suggestion that Obama's speech contained "few concrete changes," denying that the government in Berlin was disappointed.
"It was a good and important speech and we welcome the progress," said de Maiziere, adding that talks about the issue would continue.
Obama said on Friday that, while the US will not end its bulk collection of telephone and Internet data, it will no longer consolidate and control all of that information. The announcement followed revelations about the far-reaching extent of US spying operations that were brought to light through documents leaked by former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden.
De Maiziere warned that the real danger lay with other countries and organizations that were interested in spying on the electronic communications of private individuals.
"Even if the NSA were to stop taking an interest in the Internet, there are other states that do so, and, to be sure, in a far more brazen way."
"There are organized criminals, who are interested in our transactions. There are business models that aim to sell individuals' profile images, and so on," said De Maiziere, adding that he had spoken with colleagues earlier in the day.
"The protection of the Internet, against whomever, that is our common purpose, and not just this fixation on the NSA."
Washington under investigation?
Washington has been heavily criticized both in the US and abroad for its far-reaching surveillance programs, particularly its indiscriminate collection of millions of people's telephone records, known as metadata. A White House panel appointed by the president to review spying practices questioned the government's ability to control such information. Acknowledging that criticism, Obama conceded that "we need a new approach."
The website of German news magazine "Der Spiegel" on Sunday carried a report that Germany's Federal Public Prosecutor Harald Range was considering a formal investigation against the US over alleged acts of espionage. The newspaper cited Justice Minister Heiko Maas as its source - reportedly having told his fellow Social Democrat, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that "something could be about to happen."
The NSA came in for particular criticism from Germany after it emerged that the NSA was listening in on the cellphone communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In an interview with the German television channel ZDF on Saturday, Obama said that spying on foreign governments would continue, but that "the chancellor of Germany will not have to worry about this."
rc/lw (dpa, AFP)
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