Revelations about the surveillance activities of US and British intelligence agencies in Germany could be about to spark a federal investigation. Prosecutors aren't yet sure whether there is enough evidence for a case.
The Federal Prosecutor's Office has issued an official request to all of the relevant German intelligence agencies and ministries to pass on to it any information they have related to the snooping affair.
A spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office quoted in Saturday's edition of the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper said it would then examine the information received to determine whether the case might fall within its "jurisdiction to investigate." He said federal prosecutors first began looking into the case on June 27.
The spokesman also told the paper that prosecutors would be examining whether an investigation should be launched under a provision of German law relating to activities by intelligence agencies to the detriment of the Federal Republic of Germany. He declined to speculate on how long it could take investigators to gather and examine all of the evidence available.
He also declined to say which agencies or ministries had been approached for information.
The news that federal prosecutors were examining allegations surrounding the affair was welcomed by the general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.
Herman Gröhe told the DPA news agency that this showed that "we are a country governed by the rule of law, which takes its legal system very seriously."
He also struck back at the chairman of the opposition Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, accusing him of trying to use the affair for political gains ahead of the September 22 federal election.
In an interview published in Saturday's edition of the Darmstadt Echo newspaper, Gabriel had accused Chancellor Merkel's government of having failed to respond robustly enough in light of "millions of breaches of basic rights."
Gröhe said Gabriel "was acting as if the greatest threat to our freedom came from American intelligence services, not from terrorist attack."
In a separate development on Saturday, the online edition of Spiegel newsmagazine reported that Germany's BND intelligence service had passed on telecommunications metadata on a large scale to the US National Security Agency (NSA).
The newsmagazine cited documents it had received from former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden, who has received temporary asylum in Russia. US authorities have demanded that he be extradited so that they can put him on trial.
The BND responded to the Spiegel allegations later on Saturday, with a spokesman telling DPA, among other things, that any activities the agency carried out were in complete compliance with German law.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger demanded an explanation from the BND, saying that if it was true the agency had helped to provide mass amounts of data to the NSA, then "urgent action" was needed.
"The BND must finally put the facts on the table," she told the Monday edition of the "Münchner Merkur" newspaper.
pfd/av (dpa, AFP, Reuters)