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German Foreign Intelligence Accused of Spying on Citizens Living Abroad

Sputnik News

21:21 29.11.2014(updated 21:45 29.11.2014)

German foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) has been accused by former employee of spying on German citizens living abroad using a legal loophole.

MOSCOW, November 29 (Sputnik) — There is a law in Germany that specifies the legal framework for spying. German intelligence is forbidden from eavesdropping on German nationals.

However, the BND argued that German citizens working for foreign companies abroad were only protected in their private lives, but not in their professional communications, The Local reported, referring to the words of former BND employee, Stefan Burnbaum.

A targeted person is called an "office holder" by intelligence services.

'The office holder is the legal person… It's a small exception. But a German citizen can function as an office holder in a foreign organization… The decisive thing is whether he's communicating as a citizen or as an office holder,' Burnbaum told the Bundestag inquiry committee into National Security Agency (NSA) mass spying as quoted by The Local.

Work-related phone calls or e-mails were not attributed to an individual, but to the company the individual worked for. Thus, if the company was foreign, the BND could intercept the data.

The issue of intelligence services spying on civilians drew worldwide attention back in 2013, when former US NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information, revealing that the NSA was running massive surveillance programs without a warrant, sifting through databases in search of private information on US foreign citizens and even leaders of the allied countries.

In October 2013, a major scandal broke out when German Chancellor Angela Merkel found out that the US intelligence had possibly tapped her cell phone.

The BND has itself been involved in a number of spy scandals. Earlier in July, a 31-year-old employee of the BND was arrested and confessed to having leaked information about the government's special committee investigation into American intelligence activities in Germany to the NSA. On July 9, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported about a second spy suspect, who allegedly worked in the German defense ministry.

Legally, the BND is prohibited from conducting spying operations inside the country, but according to The Local, it has been working closely with the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies.


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