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Data Protection

German privacy primus chides secret services

Germany's federal commissioner for data privacy and freedom of information Peter Schaar has told an international conference in Berlin that intelligence services must disclose more of their workings to civil society.

Intelligence services encased in a "wall of silence" must become more transparent, Germany's data privacy commissioner said on Wednesday. Only then could citizens comprehend their work instead of listening solely to "whistleblowers."

Peter Schaar, whose office oversees whether German firms and state entities uphold data privacy law and citizens' rights to information from institutions, said secret services should "not avoid transparency."

Citizens must be given opportunities to comprehend governmental actions, said Schaar.

"That is decisive for trust in democracy, which is damaged when this transparency just does not exist," he said.

Schaar told German ZDF public television last week that he should have been formally notified of data collection should the Spiegel news magazine be correct in its claim that the American CIA and German intelligence services had operated a joint database between 2005 and 2010 to trace information on suspected jihadists.

Data scanning scrutinized

At the two-day Berlin conference, 220 participants were expected to attend.

Visiting Bangladeshi commissioner for freedom of information, Sadeka Halim, said authorities often cited exclusion clauses when arbitarily deciding not to fulfill information requests.

A spokesman for Berlin's city privacy commissioner, Alexander Dix, said he anticipated discussion at the conference to include recent disclosures about the data scanning practices of US and British intelligence services.

In June, media outlets such as the Washington Post and Britain's Guardian - citing documents of the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden - highlighted the existence of US and British intelligence systems designed to access private communications handled by major Internet providers.

At the time, Schaar said he was not reassured "at all" by US government statements and demanded that Washington provide "clarity regarding these monstrous allegations."

EU alarmed

In a newer twist last week, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom demanded that the United States respond to media reports that US intelligence services had spied on bank transactions run by the Belgium-based Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).

She warned that, if true, the EU might retract from an agreement under which the EU grants the US access to SWIFT as part of the global fight against terrorism, but with privacy and anti-terrorism curbs pushed through by the European Parliament.

Secretive US court

Reuters reported on Tuesday that that one of the 11 judges that serves in the secretive US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court based in Washington had concluded that massive tapping of telephone data was "reasonable."

Judge Claire Eagan said tapping authorizations made under the Patriot Act that followed the September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on New York did not violate the privacy rights of Americans.

"The court concludes that there are facts showing reasonable grounds to believe that the records sought are relevant to authorized investigations," wrote Eagan.

ipj/mz (Reuters, dpa, AFP)