German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested that European countries should develop a communications network as part of an effort to improve data protection.
The plans would form part of a strategy to counter the mass surveillance conducted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), GCHQ and other nations’ security services.
The plans represent the first actions taken by Germany after documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had his calls routinely monitored by the NSA.
Merkel herself was also subject to phone tapping continuously since election in 2002, which only ended last year when she started using a BlackBerry. It has also been reported that MI6 had a ‘secret listening post’ in the British embassy in Berlin.
Merkel took aim at internet companies, such as Facebook and Google, suggesting that it isn’t acceptable that some companies can be based in countries with lower levels of data protection and yet conduct business in nations with better safeguards.
“Above all we’ll talk about European providers that offer security to our citizens, so that one shouldn’t have to send emails and other information across the Atlantic,” she said.
“Rather, one could build up a communications network inside Europe.”
Chancellor Merkel said she would discuss the project with French President François Hollande – even though France has its own surveillance programme on a par with the NSA’s and GCHQ’s.
French government officials are nevertheless thought to have welcomed the German initiative, with one official quoted by Reuters stating that they would “take up” the programme.
In July last year, Merkel vowed to push for more stringent laws in the EU to protect personal information on the web.
This was prior to her finding out that her phone had been tapped. In October, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag then claimed that President Obama was personally notified about the surveillance operation – an allegation that the NSA denies.
After the revelations about the phone tapping, and surveillance operation in Berlin’s American and British embassies, Merkel reportedly made a personal phone call to President Obama.
He is said to have apologised and claimed that he was unaware of the operation.