Wikileaks cables describe US pressure on Germany in context of data sharing agreements

A number of cables from the Berlin embassy reveal the US concern on Germany’s position in the SWIFT, TFTP and the bilateral US-Germany data sharing agreements. A revealing cable from December 2009 (09BERLIN1528) on the SWIFT agreement describes how  German Minister of Interior de  Maiziere overruled Justice Minister Sabine  Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and abstained from voting at the November 30 COREPER vote in Brussels on an interim U.S.-EU  agreement to continue the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program. The cable describes the US pressure on De Maziere:

De Maiziere’s decision  followed two weeks of intense lobbying in Berlin, Brussels  and Washington by Embassy Berlin, USEU, the Departments of  Treasury, State and Justice and the NSC.  The campaign  included calls by Secretaries Clinton, Geithner, the Attorney  General and the National Security Advisor to their German counterparts.  State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Benjamin urged support for the agreement during a two-day visit to Berlin (see septel). Ambassador Murphy twice wrote to all five relevant ministers (Interior, Justice, Finance,  Chancellery, and MFA) and made repeated calls to senior  decision makers, stressing the importance of the interim  agreement and the need for Germany to not block it.  The DCM,  Econ M/C, and staff from multiple embassy sections heavily  engaged on the issue as well.

While successful, the strategy wasn’t particularly appreciated:

De Maiziere intimated, and working level contacts have  confirmed, that Germany would like to avoid a repeat of our  all-out lobbying effort during the negotiations for a  long-term TFTP agreement. (…)
Nevertheless, the  intensity of this dispute should be a wake up call – we must  avoid repeating this as we look to completing the long-term  U.S.-EU TFTP agreement.  The coalition agreement calls for  strict limitations on the use of TFTP data, no automatic  access to the system, data deletion requirements, clear rules on sharing information with third parties and legal redress. These positions will guide Germany’s views in the follow-on  negotiations, and we need to consider how to take them into  account in a way that does not complicate TFTP  implementation.

In an earlier cable from November 2009 (09BERLIN1393) the US was concerned initially about  De Maiziere.

During his first day remarks to employees, de Maiziere  made the peculiar statement that “the Interior Ministry is  responsible for internal matters, and the Foreign Ministry is  responsible for issues external to Germany.”  This  characterization of the MoI’s tasks contrasts sharply with EU  law enforcement integration initiatives under Schaeuble such  as the Pruem data sharing agreement.  (…) More relevant is whether de
Maiziere will build on  Schaeuble’s record of deepening U.S.-German security  cooperation, such as the successful negotiations of a  bilateral “Pruem-like” agreement to exchange information on  terrorism and serious crime suspects, as well as establish an  automated fingerprint checking system.

But the US was really worried aboutthe prospect of having the FDP in the future German government. Cable 09BERLIN1167expressed fears that the FDP has ‘favored data protection measures over the need for governments to  strengthen security-related information sharing for  counterterrorism purposes’:

Immediately following the March 2008 completion of the  U.S.-German data sharing
agreement to enhance cooperation in  preventing and combating terrorism and other serious crime  (aka, the Pruem-like agreement, Ref C), FDP parliamentarians  began to express concerns regarding the agreement.  FDP  members took particular aim at an article in the agreement  that calls for additional data protection measures to be  taken if special categories of personal data (such as ethnic  origin, political opinion, religion, trade union membership,  and sexual orientation) are transferred among law enforcement  agencies.  (Comment: In our discussions with FDP  parliamentarians, we explained that negotiators did not  foresee that such information would need to be transferred  regularly and that the article was inserted as a means of  providing extra data privacy protections in the rare  occurrence that such information was pertinent to an  investigation.  End Comment.) 

In meetings with EMIN, Stadler  and Piltz also expressed objections to the data retention  periods of the agreement, questioned which USG law  enforcement agencies would have access to the information,  and voiced a general concern about potential misuse of the personal information (names, DOBs, addresses, passport  numbers, etc.) that would be shared by the agreement.  Piltz  further claimed that the U.S. government as a whole lacked  effective data protection measures in comparison to Germany  and questioned why the USG does not have a overall federal data protection commissioner as Germany does.  (Comment:  Piltz’ remark underscores the importance of ensuring German  officials receive information about USG data protection  policy.  The April visit to Berlin by DHS Chief Privacy Officer Callahan was useful in this regard, but more needs to  be done to ensure German officials understand U.S. data  protection policy.  End Comment.)

At times, the FDP’s fixation on data privacy  and protection issues looks to have come at
the expense of the party forming responsible views on security policy.  The FDP has been out of power for over 10 years and lack experience tackling security issues in the Internet age.  The FDP appears not to fully grasp the transnational character of terrorism today and terrorists’ increasing use of the Internet and related technology to recruit, train and organize. In particular, a  FDP-led Justice Ministry could well complicate implementation of the bilateral Pruem-like agreement, prevent negotiations on a HSPD-6 terrorist screening data sharing arrangement, and raise objections to U.S.-EU information sharing initiatives.

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2 Responses

  1. This is a very nice post. Keep up the good work so that we all can stay up to date. Best regards.

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