Germany's Spies Store 11 Billion Pieces Of Phone Metadata A Year — And Pass On 6 Billion To The NSA
from the bad-sex dept
Given Germany’s high-profile attachment to privacy, it’s always interesting to hear about ways in which its spies have been ignoring that tradition. Here, for example, is a story in the German newspaper Die Zeit about the country’s foreign intelligence agency BND gathering metadata from millions of phone records every day:
Zeit Online has learned from secret BND documents that five agency locations are involved in gathering huge amounts of metadata. Metadata vacuumed up across the world — 220 million pieces of it every single day — flows into BND branch offices in the German towns of Schöningen, Reinhausen, Bad Aibling and Gablingen. There, they are stored for between a week and six months and sorted according to still-unknown criteria.
Exactly where the BND obtains the data remains unclear. The Bundestag [German parliament] committee investigating the NSA spying scandal has uncovered that the German intelligence agency intercepts communications traveling via both satellites and Internet cables. The 220 million metadata are only one part of what is amassed from these eavesdropping activities. It is certain that the metadata only come from “foreign dialed traffic,” in other words, from telephone conversations and text messages that are held and sent via mobile telephony and satellites.
As in the US and UK, the German spies attempt to pull the “it’s only metadata, so it’s not surveillance” trick:
Many people don’t realize how much information can be derived from metadata — and the BND is working hard to keep it that way. For example, during hearings before the Bundestag committee investigating the NSA affair, intelligence officials have consistently spoken about “routine traffic” whenever they have actually meant metadata. Given that the German word for “traffic” is the same as that for “intercourse,” this has sounded more like bad sex and has aimed to obscure the fact that hidden behind it was comprehensive, groundless and massive surveillance.
What’s more, the officials have argued that they are permitted to vacuum up this kind of routine traffic all over the world without any restrictions and to use it as they see fit. However, Peter Schaar doesn’t share this view at all. Instead, the German government’s former commissioner for data protection and freedom of information believes that metadata should also be protected by the basic right of privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications guaranteed by Article 10 of Germany’s Basic Law.
This long and interesting report is important for the insight it gives us about what the BND is up to — despite Germany’s stringent laws — as well as the news that the German intelligence service passes 500 million pieces of metadata to the NSA every month. General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, famously said: “We kill people based on metadata.” That means privacy-loving Germany could be implicated in some of those deaths. And there’s another aspect to the story worth noting. Nowhere does Die Zeit say that this information comes from Edward Snowden. Once again, it looks as if his example is inspiring others to shine a little light on the murky world of surveillance.