By Heini Järvinen

Germany’s federal prosecutor annouced on 11 June 2014 that it has opened a formal investigation into the alleged monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone by the US’s National Security Agency (NSA). The German government has reportedly announced its support to the investigation.

Although Chancellor Merkel has asked the US President Barack Obama in person for an explanation for the alleged spying in October 2013, the decision to open the investigation is the first formal act taken by a German government agency in response to the revelations made public by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The decision to proceed with the investigation came somewhat as a surprise, as it appeared that both the German and the US governments had recently successfully minimised the public interest around the revelations, apparently with a view to preventing the scandal from further burdening the US-German relationship. However, it was in general welcomed among German politicians.

“It wouldn’t be a bad message if [the federal prosecutor] were to at least open preliminary proceedings to show that Germany isn’t willing to just put up with anything at all,”

commented Michael Hartman, SPD’s domestic policy point person in the parliament prior to the announcement.

The key issue regarding the investigation will be to define whether, as the US government has suggested, the German chancellor’s mobile phone was monitored automatically, or if her calls were being actively tapped, engaging individual agents, as has been claimed in German media. The latter would constitute a clear breach of German law.

The federal prosecutor has currently no plans to look into the alleged mass spying of German citizens by the NSA, or to open an official investigation into it, which has raised some criticism. However, initiating proceedings at a later date is not excluded if new evidence relating to general surveillance is obtained.

“I assume that the tapping of Angela Merkel’s cell phone must have involved active decisions by real people, whereas the monitoring of 80 million Germans would have been a matter of algorithms and people analysing the results. Both actions amount to violations of German law. Whether you have a human being or a computer opening and scanning your letters for individual words, it’s the same thing, because government authorities have gained this information,”

said Konstantin von Notz, a Green party MP and member of the Bundestag’s NSA inquiry committee.

Germany opens inquiry into claims NSA tapped Angela Merkel’s phone (04.06.2014)
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/germany-inquiry-nsa-tapping-angela-merkel-phone

Snowden NSA: Germany to investigate Merkel ‘phone tap’ (04.06.2014)
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27695634

Merkel’s mobile: Germany launches investigation into NSA spying (04.06.2014)
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-expected-to-open-investigation-into-nsa-spying-on-merkel-a-973326.html