German minister: Stop using U.S. Web services to avoid NSA spying

German minister: Stop using U.S. Web services to avoid NSA spying

Summary: Germany is one of the most privacy conscious nations in the world, with data and privacy laws stronger than any other in the EU. And amid the NSA spying scandal, the country's top security chief has warned users to simply avoid U.S. companies. Will that work?

TOPICS: Security
ECHELON radomes at RAF Menwith Hill, U.K. (Image:Matt Crypto via Wikimedia Commons)

Germany's interior minister has a solution to prevent the U.S. spying on its citizens. Don't use Facebook, Google, Microsoft services and so on.

According to the AP, Hans-Peter Friedrich told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that "whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don't go through American servers."

It comes at a time where numerous newspapers report on spying claims based on the leaked reports by former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was the first to disclose the mass spying operation by U.S. intelligence services, codenamed PRISM.

*slow clap*

I'll hand that to you, Friedrich. You had me there for a moment. My sides split. Nice one, my fellow European friend. It would be a fine solution to a difficult problem. Of course, that would work. After all, Germany is one of the most privacy-minded nations in the world and has no problem in striking at companies that break its laws.

It's all good and well knowing that Germany, in recent years, has given Facebook a good, hearty ticking off as a result of its facial recognition technology. The country has also given Google a slap on the wrist for collecting vast amounts of wireless network data through its Street View program.

Germany loves its privacy. Its ministers and politicians, though, in statements like the aforementioned, don't always have the greatest levels of common sense.

There are two problems direct from the Dept. of the Bleeding Obvious. Firstly, you can ask 82 million of your citizens not to use U.S. social networks, U.S. search engines, and other U.S. services — but for them to comply is entirely something else.

Arguably, you might think it would be the citizens' own fault for going against ministerial advice by checking their Facebook statuses and using Google to search for that new pair of shoes. Actually, it's not. It's the German government's issue, politically and legally, to protect its citizens from espionage and foreign spying.

People can get as outraged as they like over spying and snooping, but the world's technology isn't as distributed as it should be. It's a U.S.-centered economy — it's the home of the technology and Web giants — and there's little that can be done about it. Europe doesn't have the technology economy, and it only has pockets of Silicon Valley-like culture spattered around the region. Can you think of a single European search engine? I can't. (Google still holds a 90 percent share in Europe, and that's not going to change any time soon, PRISM or no PRISM.)

But secondly, holding U.S. services at arms length may not limit the flow of information to the NSA, following revelations that U.K. intelligence is tapping fiber cables that form part of the Internet's backbone. These cables — similar to Tier 1 networks in a sense but instead connect countries to other countries — carry vast amounts more data, often from numerous countries. If the U.K. is proven beyond doubt that it has been tapping into cables, codenamed Tempora, which connects Germany to its transatlantic partners, there will be a greater chance of insider EU fisticuffs than a transatlantic punch-up.

There's talk of a European cloud on deck, but will this really help? Opinion seems mixed. Logistically, it could be a benefit to European users — if it works — but there will always be a way around it. If the NSA, for instance, can't directly access data in Europe, it can always ask its British minions to carry out actions on its behalf through pre-existing intelligence agreements.

A German delegation is heading to Washington, D.C. next week to meet with U.S. officials to discuss whether EU diplomats were being spied upon.

Topic: Security

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    not that it would solve the spying problem. but now you can choose which agency will be spying on you... competition is good
    • It's Just a Stupid Comment

      Avoiding US Web sites is not going to help at all.

      The NSA is monitoring German users no matter where in the World the sites they visit are located.

      If you do not want the NSA monitoring your activity, do not use the Internet.

      If you can come up with a better plan then, do it. The chances of stopping the NSA are slim at best. They are fine with violating the constitution of their own country. Why would they have a problem violating the rights of non-US citizens?

      I think every member of US congress should be charged with violating their oath of office for allowing the NSA to continue with their unconstitutional surveillance.

      The Oath: I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States...

      It means about as much a the cashier saying "have a nice day".

      Everyone says it but no one means it.
    • I suppose

      you can tailor which country's search engine you use on the basis of what you're searching for. Want information on Pussy Riot without raising alarms? Use an american search engine. Want news on Snowden? Use, I don't know, a Martian search engine?
  • Germany spying as well

    Today in the news.
    German security services are spying too.
    Apperantly 20% of the data from the DE-CIX internet exchange in germany is being monitored by the german DNB secret service.
    The DE-CIX is the biggest internet exchange in the world with 2,5 TB/s of data flowing through it.

    This article is now a bit of a joke seeing as the gemans themselves are violating peoples privacy themselves as much as the US.
    • Do as I say

      not as I do
      William Farrel
  • Nightmare scenario

    This really is a nightmare scenario for U.S. e-businesses. Say what you will about the Catholic church, but they recognized long ago the need for absolute confidentiality in the confessional, and by and large priests respect that vow. A murderer can confess his crimes to a priest and the priest is supposed to keep it a secret. Well, the government should understand that ecommerce, a very valuable, critical part of the U.S. economy, is severely undermined if firms cannot guarantee their clients confidentiality.

    I fear that this is just another in a long line of knee-jerk reactions to 9/11 that will ultimately prove far more damaging to the country than terrorist acts ever have or ever could.
    • Judging

      "will ultimately prove far more damaging to the country than terrorist acts ever have or ever could."

      Judging by the loss of freedoms and the billions $$$ thrown down the rat hole I'd say it's already happened.
      • Terrorism? Spy on the weapon lobby

        A few hundred people get killed by terrorists in the West, tens of thousands are killed by weapons. It is kind of bizarre that they spy on their people and allies while refusing background checks on weapons as they infringe on the right of privacy. The real reason the NSA spies is simply to provide the Monsanto's and Boeing's of this world with info. The remainder is a bonus.
    • I think that is a great example

      The Catholic with its policies of silence/privacy/secrecy. It most certainly helped the predators in the church, and has been held up by their victims as a model of integrity.
      • The government is god!

        So divulging secrets to the government is good thing then. In the Catholic Church it is a matter between the penitent and God. I suppose for you it would be between the government (NSA) and the citizen whether the citizen likes it or not. Sorry, for me the government is not god, very far from it.
    • This easily pre-dates 9/11

      Citizens have always been spied upon by their own governments, and governments have always spied upon other governments (and themselves). I think the real consequence of 9/11 is that you see more morons going on about how, yeah, it is okay to record my phone calls so long as it helps the fight against terrorism. Of course, 30 years ago those people would be saying the same thing about fighting the Reds.
  • He's allowed to advise his citizens

    If his reasons are good and he talks about it often enough, they might even follow his advice. But I can't imagine that the U.S. government (specifically, the U.S. Trade Representative) will take kindly to this. Indeed, I can see a WTO complaint coming out of this.

    Disclaimer: If any of the regulars were in doubt on the issue, I think the WTO was a bad idea from the start and should be dissolved.
    John L. Ries
  • Best advice I've seen.

    "Stop using U.S. Web services to avoid NSA spying."

    One thing is certain, when US companies feel it in the wallet things WILL change. Being "patriotic" is one thing but losing money, NO WAY.
    • Re: losing money, NO WAY

      That also means losing the 10% legal "convincing" politicians get. A good motivation to amend laws...
  • Liar

    Spare me, like the Germans aren't doing this anyhow, if they can. This guy is just being a poseur for internal consumption. This stuff is all over Euro news, more than here in the US. The whole continent is just piled high with resentment towards the US, the same way many here have lionized European culture (less so now). Germans may be many things, but they're not stupid . . . they will go with whoever has the best price and service. And who offers it best to the 30% of the worlds consumer market, the US.
    • There hasnt been much lionizing the EU around here.

      If anything, all I ever read around here is one harsh critique after another about the EU from ZDNet posters, not so much from the article writers admittedly.

      ZDNet posters in general are an overly opinionated very harsh lot that always seem to have more than an abundance of trash to talk about on any person, place or subject it seems.

      While some seem to deserve it, others seem to get it just by existing and carrying on as much the world does. I don't think its fair to say there has ben any significant lionizing of the EU on these web pages.
      • harsh critique after another about the EU from ZDNet posters

        I don't know if you living here, in EU or not, but I do. EU It's one big bunch of hypocrites. Do not believe? Just read:

        The U.S. and EU are themselves worth.
        • Have to agree - the problem with the EU

          is the same as in the US the ministers. The EU is a mess, the people - heck they are great, the Ministers - not so much.
  • I've said this ever since people realized the US Patriot Act was bad:

    "U.K. intelligence is tapping fiber cables that form part of the Internet's backbone"

    I said this of the US. Almost every connection to the Internet passes through backbone providers in the US. So it really doesn't matter where your data is hosted - if the US government wants it, and your computers are connected to the Internet, they'll get it. Encryption won't do anything. You can tell if your cryptography standard is compromised for the US government: just look for a label that says that it falls under US trade embargo regulations.
    • not so

      Of course, the traffic that originates and terminates within my own country and passes trough local internet exchanges does in no way go to the US.

      By not going to the US, my traffic also benefits from lower round trip times, thus improving performance of my communications.

      The Internet is not centered in the US, in fact, since around 1990 is much less dependent on the US for anything.