News / Europe

Germany Wants German Internet as Spying Scandal Rankles

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel adjusts her headset during a news conference at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels Oct. 25, 2013.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel adjusts her headset during a news conference at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels Oct. 25, 2013.
Reuters
As a diplomatic row rages between the United States and Europe over spying accusations, state-backed Deutsche Telekom wants German communications companies to cooperate to shield local Internet traffic from foreign intelligence services.
 
Yet the nascent effort, which took on new urgency after Germany said on Wednesday that it had evidence that Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone had been monitored, faces an uphill battle if it is to be more than a marketing gimmick.
 
It would not work when Germans surf on websites hosted on servers abroad, such as social network Facebook or search engine Google, according to interviews with six telecom and Internet experts. Deutsche Telekom could also have trouble getting rival broadband groups on board because they are wary of sharing network information.
 
More fundamentally, the initiative runs counter to how the Internet works today - global traffic is passed from network to network under free or paid-for agreements with no thought for national borders.
 
If more countries wall themselves off, it could lead to a troubling “Balkanisation” of the Internet, crippling the openness and efficiency that have made the web a source of economic growth, said Dan Kaminsky, a U.S. security researcher.
 
Controls over Internet traffic are more commonly seen in countries such as China and Iran where governments seek to limit the content their people can access by erecting firewalls and blocking Facebook and Twitter.
 
“It is internationally without precedent that the Internet traffic of a developed country bypasses the servers of another country,” said Torsten Gerpott, a professor of business and telecoms at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
 
“The push of Deutsche Telekom is laudable, but it's also a public relations move.”
 
Deutsche Telekom, which is 32 percent owned by the government, has received backing for its project from the telecoms regulator for potentially giving customers more options.
 
In August, the company also launched a service dubbed “E-mail made in Germany” that encrypts email and sends traffic exclusively through its domestic servers.

Bugging
 
Government snooping is a sensitive subject in Germany, which has among the strictest privacy laws in the world, since it dredges up memories of eavesdropping by the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany, where Merkel grew up.
 
The issue dominated discussions at a European summit on Thursday, prompting Merkel to demand that the U.S. strike a “no-spying” agreement with Berlin and Paris by the end of the year.
 
As the row festers, telecom and Internet experts said the rhetoric exceeded the practical changes that could be expected from Deutsche Telekom's project. More than 90 percent of Germany's Internet traffic already stays within its borders, said Klaus Landefeld, a board member of the non-profit organization that runs the DE-CIX Internet exchange point in Frankfurt.
 
Others pointed out that Deutsche Telekom's preference for being paid by other Internet networks for carrying traffic to the end user, instead of “peering” agreements at no cost, clashed with the goal to keep traffic within Germany. It can be cheaper or free for German traffic to go through London or Amsterdam, where it can be intercepted by foreign spies.
 
Thomas Kremer, the executive in charge of data privacy and legal affairs for the German operator, said the group needed to sign connection agreements with three additional operators to make a national routing possible. “If this were not the case, one could think of a legislative solution,” he said.
 
“As long as sender and receiver are in the Schengen area or in Germany, traffic should no longer be routed through other countries,” Kremer said, referring to the 26-country passport-free zone in Europe.
 
A spokesman for Telefonica Germany said it was in early discussions on national routing with other groups. A spokesman for Vodafone said it was “evaluating if and how” to implement the Deutsche Telekom proposal.
 
Data centers

 
While the routers and switches that direct traffic can be programmed so data travel certain routes, the most popular online services are not built to respect borders.
 
Web companies often rely on a few large data centers to power their entire operation, and they don't choose locations based on the location of their customers but on factors such as the availability of cheap power, cool climates, and high-speed broadband networks.
 
For example, if a Munich resident uses Facebook to chat with a friend sitting 500 kilometers (310 miles) away in Berlin, the traffic would go through one of the company's three massive data centers 8,000 km away in Oregon or North Carolina, or one near the Arctic Circle in the Swedish town of LuleKa. European users' profiles are not necessarily stored in the Swedish center; instead the website's different functions such as games, messaging, and wall posts are distributed among the data centers to improve efficiency.
 
Similarly, emails sent by Google's Gmail between two German residents would probably be routed through one of the company's three data centers in Finland, Belgium and Ireland.
 
The only way to change this would be for Germany to require local hosting of websites, a drastic move according to experts that has not yet been pushed by German leaders. Deutsche Telekom declined to say whether it would lobby for such an approach.
 
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, angered by reports that the U.S. spied on her and other Brazilians, is pushing legislation that would force Google, Facebook and other internet companies to store locally gathered or user-generated data inside the country.
 
One solution would be for European leaders to beef up a new data-privacy law, which has been in the works for almost two years. A greatly toughened version of the law was backed by the European Parliament on Monday, but it still requires agreement by members states.
 
France and Germany may succeed in getting member states to push ahead on talks to complete the new data rules by 2015.
 
Deutsche Telekom's Kremer said the new law could help: “Of course customers need to be able to use any web services they like, anywhere in the world. But we need to make this safer.”

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs