Germany said Thursday it will not renew a contract with Verizon because the company could be used to help U.S. intelligence agencies — like the National Security Agency (NSA) — spy on German governmental communications.
Verizon provides Internet services to various German agencies, but not to German security agencies. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been one of the NSA’s targets.
The contract ends next year. “There are indications,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Tobias Plate told news media, “that Verizon is legally required to provide certain things to the NSA, and that’s one of the reasons the cooperation with Verizon won’t continue.”
The German move “would be scandalous if it was effective,” GlobalSecurity.com’s John Pike told VentureBeat.
“We pay the NSA to listen to other people’s phone calls,” he said, and simply discontinuing Verizon’s contract is not going to prevent the NSA from doing that if they wanted to.
“Why cancel one government contract?” Electronic Frontier Foundation international director Danny O’Brien asked. It’s because, he said, “German politicians are [concerned] about protecting their privacy.”
O’Brien pointed out that German spy agency BND “has black boxes at the commercial Internet exchange in Germany,” which allows it to spy on German citizens’ Net communications.
“It’s unclear if it’s legal,” he said.
He added that it’s “interesting the German government is throwing Verizon out of a government contract, but not throwing out other companies [or the BND] spying on German citizens themselves.”
“Everybody is operating in the world of mass surveillance without legal oversight,” O’Brien noted.
“Attempting to throw out one company just moves the problem,” he told us. “It sends an interesting signal to U.S. companies that they will lose business if they comply with NSA demands.” Ironically, O’Brien told us, “Verizon has been very good at publishing transparency reports” on when they receive governmental requests.
Verizon provided VentureBeat with this statement:
“Verizon Germany is a German company and we comply with German law. We have outlined our position on the inability of the US Government to access customer data stored outside the US in our policy blog.”
At the end of last year, Brazil awarded a fighter jet contract to Boeing, in favor of the Swedish company Saab. The decision was reportedly influenced by reports that the NSA had spied on communications of the Brazilian president, and had hacked data from governmental agencies there.