US and Germany to enter no-spying agreement, German government says

The EU and the US should also accelerate data protection agreement talks, Chancellor Merkel said

The U.S. has verbally committed to enter into a no-spying agreement with Germany in the wake of disclosures about the U.S. National Security Agency's secret surveillance programs.

The verbal commitment was given in talks with the German Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND), the sole foreign intelligence service of Germany, the German government said in a news release on Wednesday. This means that there must be no governmental or industrial espionage between the two countries, it said.

More common standards for the cooperation of E.U. intelligence services are in progress, the German government added. No further details about the agreement were given. The German Federal Ministry of the Interior reached on Monday could not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The no-spying agreement talks were announced as part of a progress report on an eight-point program proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in July with measures to better protect the privacy of German citizens. The plan was drafted "due to the current discussions about the work of the intelligence services," the German government said.

In the progress report, the German government found that U.S. intelligence services comply with German law. Also, the operators of large German Internet exchanges and the federal government did not find any evidence that the U.S. spies on Germans, the government said.

However, NSA spying revelations should lead to an acceleration of data protection agreement negotiations between the E.U. and the U.S., Merkel said in an interview on German radio on Tuesday evening.

The discussion about NSA data surveillance is also an opportunity to call for a strengthened European regulated privacy policy, the chancellor said, urging the E.U. to come to a unified privacy policy.

This might be hard to do though. Different E.U countries have different ideas about such a policy, she said. This also makes it difficult to come to a data protection agreement with the U.S.

A European Data Protection Directive should, for instance, require "that Internet companies that operate in Europe tell us if they provide information to other governments," Merkel said. But so far, there has been no consensus about this German plan in Europe, although France has already joined the German camp, she said.

It is also important to strengthen the European IT industry, Merkel said. Large data nodes now are solely made with equipment from Chinese and U.S. manufacturers, Merkel said, adding that she doubted that was a good idea. Therefore, along with the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, Merkel is looking for European partners so the E.U. can catch up technologically and be capable of independent action again, she said.

Despite the criticism of government surveillance programs, Merkel said people should not forget that intelligence agencies do important work to protect people in Germany as well as abroad. German information, for instance, can prevent attacks on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, while American data in turn can be used to protect the lives of German soldiers, she said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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