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Germany: US may have targeted Merkel's cellphone
Amid tensions with France because of NSA intelligence gathering techniques, Germany says US might have targeted Merkel's phone in 'serious breach of trust' if true. White House denies report
German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning that US intelligence may have targeted her mobile phone, and said that would be "a serious breach of trust" if confirmed, her government announced.

 

The White House denied that the US is listening in on Merkel's phone calls.

 

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The German government said it responded after receiving "information that the chancellor's cellphone may be monitored" by US intelligence. It wouldn't elaborate but German news magazine Der Spiegel, which has published material from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, said its research triggered the response.

 


'A serious breach of trust' (Photo: Amanda Lucidon, EPA)

 

Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement the chancellor made clear to Obama in a phone call that "she views such practices, if the indications are confirmed ... as completely unacceptable."

 

Merkel said among close partners such as Germany and the US, "there must not be such surveillance of a head of government's communication," Seibert added. "That would be a serious breach of trust. Such practices must be stopped immediately."

  

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Carney addresses wiretapping allegations (Video: Reuters)

 

 

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney denied the report and said Obama and Merkel spoke by phone on Wednesday.

 

"The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor," Carney said.

 

Carney added that the US is examining Germany's concerns as part of a review of how the US gathers intelligence. The White House has cited that review in responding to similar spying concerns from France and other US allies.

 

Merkel raised concerns over electronic eavesdropping issue when Obama visited Germany in June, has demanded answers from the US government and backed calls for greater European data protection. However, Wednesday's statement was much more sharply worded and appeared to reflect frustration over the answers provided so far by the US government.

 

Merkel called for US authorities to clarify the extent of surveillance in Germany and to provide answers to "questions that the German government asked months ago," Seibert said.

 

70.3 million French phones targeted

Overseas politicians are also using the threat to their citizens' privacy to drum up their numbers at the polls – or to distract attention from their own domestic problems. Some have even downplayed the matter to keep good relations with Washington.

 

After a Paris newspaper reported the NSA had swept up 70.3 million French telephone records in a 30-day period, the French government called the US ambassador in for an explanation and put the issue of personal data protection on the agenda of the European Union summit that opens Thursday.

 

"Why are these practices, as they're reported – which remains to be clarified – unacceptable? First because they are taking place between partners, between allies, and then because they clearly are an affront to private life," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the French government spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

 

But the official French position – that friendly nations should not spy on each another – can't be taken literally, a former French foreign minister said.

 

"The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us," Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview. "Let's be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don't have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous."

 

The French government, which until this week had been largely silent in the face of widespread U.S. snooping on its territory, may have other reasons to speak out now. The furor over the NSA managed to draw media attention away from France's controversial expulsion of a Roma family at a time when French President Francois Hollande's popularity is at a historic low. Just 23 percent of French approve of the job he is doing, according to a recent poll.

 

In Germany, opposition politicians, the media and privacy activists have been vocal in their outrage over the U.S. eavesdropping. Up until now, Merkel had worked hard to contain the damage to US-German relations and refrained from saying anything bad about the Americans.

 

Merkel has said previously her country was "dependent" on cooperation with the American spy agencies – crediting an American tip as the reason that security services foiled an Islamic terror plot in 2007 that targeted US soldiers and citizens in Germany.

 

In Italy, major newspapers reported that a parliamentary committee was told the U.S. had intercepted phone calls, emails and text messages of Italians. Premier Enrico Letta raised the topic of spying during a visit Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry. A senior State Department official said Kerry made it clear the Obama administration's goal was to strike the right balance between security needs and privacy expectations.

 

Few countries have responded as angrily to US spying than Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff took the extremely rare diplomatic step of canceling a visit to Washington where she had been scheduled to receive a full state dinner this week.

 

Analysts say her anger is genuine, though also politically profitable, for Rousseff faces a competitive re-election campaign next year.

 

David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, said since the Sept. 11 attacks Brazilian governments knew the Americans had stepped up spying efforts.

 

"But what the government did not know was that Dilma's office had been hacked as well," Fleischer said.

 

Information the NSA collected in Mexico appears to have largely focused on drug-fighting policies or government personnel trends. But the U.S. agency also allegedly spied on the emails of two Mexican presidents, Enrique Pena Nieto, the incumbent, and Felipe Calderon.

 

The Mexican government has reacted cautiously, calling the targeting of the presidents "unacceptable." Pena Nieto has demanded an investigation but hasn't cancelled any visits or contacts, a strategy that Mexico's opposition and some analysts see as weak.

 

"Other countries, like Brazil, have had responses that are much more resounding than our country," said Sen. Gabriela Cuevas of Mexico's conservative National Action Party.

 

 

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