Thursday, July 4, 2013

Green Germans Lost Trust in Obama

German Green Party executive and candidate for the German Bundestag in September's elections, Malte Spitz, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, Germans Loved Obama. Now We Don’t Trust Him.

Spitz talks about his own experiences with T-Mobile in Germany storing his cell phone records, and shows how much the German people for historical reasons value privacy over corporate or government surveillance. In 2009, Spitz filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile in Germany to release the data of his cell phone use, that T-Mobile had collected and stored. The reason at that time this kind of information had been preserved for six months was because of an implementation of a 2006 European Union directive. After huge protests by Germans, the German Constitutional Court ruled that the implementation of the European Union directive was unconstitutional. 

When Spitz won his case against T-Mobile, he received in 2010 the 35,830 pieces of metadata collected by T-Mobile in those six months. He was so shocked to see a trail of his own life based on just "records" of his phone calls, that he decided to make these records visually available with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

Spitz describes this story to show how concerned Germans are about their privacy. He says:

" Lots of young Germans have a commitment not only to fight against fascism but also to stand up for their own individual freedom. Germans of all ages want to live freely without having to worry about being monitored by private companies or the government, especially in the digital sphere. "

Spitz then moves on to the Snowden revelations about the NSA spying program, and describes how eager the Germans were to hear President Obama's recent speech in Berlin and his explanations of this NSA program:

" But the Barack Obama who spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate to a few thousand people on June 19 looked a lot different from the one who spoke in front of the Siegessäule in July 2008 in front of more than 200,000 people, who had gathered in the heart of Berlin to listen to Mr. Obama, then running for president. His political agenda as a candidate was a breath of fresh air compared with that of George W. Bush. Mr. Obama aimed to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, end mass surveillance in the so-called war on terror and defend individual freedom.............. 

But the senator who promised to shut Guantánamo is now a second-term president who is still fighting for its closure. And the events of the past few weeks concerning the collection of metadata and private e-mail and social-media content have made many Germans further question Mr. Obama’s proclaimed commitment to the individual freedoms we hold dear."

                                          This was then: Obama's Berlin speech July 2008

                                         This is now: Obama's Berlin speech June 2013

Spitz continues in his op-ed:

"While our respective security services still need to collaborate on both sides of the Atlantic to pursue and prevent organized crime and terrorism, it must be done in a way that strengthens civil liberties and does not reduce them. Although we would like to believe in the Mr. Obama we once knew, the trust and credibility he enjoyed in Germany have been undermined. The challenge we face is to once again find shared values, so that trust between our countries is restored.....

Perhaps instead of including a quote from James Madison in his speech, arguing that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare,” Mr. Obama should have been reminded of the quote from another founding father, Benjamin Franklin, when he said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” 

Mind you that Spitz wrote this op-ed on Saturday June 29, just before further news was released about the NSA also wholesale spying on Germany, EU diplomatic offices and other allies (see my earlier post: Pandora's Box of NSA Spying Program Now Moves to Europe.)   That would not have improved Spitz' trust in President Obama in any way, to say the least. Whatever the fallout of this NSA spying revelations, one thing is for sure the Obama administration has not scored any foreign policy points with its friends and allies. That in itself is one of the key tenants of foreign policy: keep your friends on your side, no matter what. President Obama will have to do some damage control in the months to come.

This is just coming in: an interview of Malte Spitze by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:


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