Privacy Advisor

GERMANY—American “Prism” Program: Criticism from German Businesses, Officials

June 19, 2013

By Flemming Moos

Reportedly, the PRISM program allows the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to access the data collected by several American businesses including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The exposure of the program caused concerns among politicians as well as the business community in Germany.

The German government initiated a meeting of Federal Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and tFederal Minister of Economics and Technology Philip Rösler with representatives of Google and Microsoft in which they unsuccessfully sought information about the extent of the program and the data being transferred and processed. Parliamentary State Secretary at the Ministry of Economics and Technology Hans-Joachim Otto afterwards demanded to harmonize data protection laws in Europe and the U.S. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding took the opportunity to reemphasize the need for clear legal guidelines.

But not only German politicians are worried about the revelations. BITKOM, the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, which represents more than 2,000 companies in Germany, published a press release in which it warns that trust in future technologies might get lost. Furthermore, BITKOM required German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel to address the issue of data protection in the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama. The “Bundesverband IT-Mittelstand e.V.,” an association representing 800 medium-sized companies, even suggested that the U.S. possibly use their superiority on the Internet for industrial espionage.

While in recent times the public attention was rather focused on the protection of data by large private businesses, it seems to be shifting in Germany after PRISM has been made public.

Flemming Moos is a partner at Norton Rose in Germany and a certified specialist for information technology law. He chairs the IAPP KnowledgeNet in Hamburg and can be reached at flemming.moos@nortonrose.com.