Germany's backing of a strict set of Europewide laws and rules
revived a push by proponents of tighter regulation in Brussels on
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has thrown her influence
behind a European effort to protect the data of Internet users after
disclosures about digital surveillance by the United States put her
under intensifying political pressure heading into her re-election
Specifically citing Facebook and Google as examples of companies
that would be affected by the proposal, Ms. Merkel called for the
European Union to adopt legislation that would require Internet
companies to disclose what information about users they store and to
whom they provide it.
There is little likelihood of any concrete action by the European
Union before the German elections in September, and big Internet
companies are already mounting aggressive lobbying campaigns to stop
or dilute any tighter privacy rules. But Germany's support for a
strict set of Europewide laws and rules revived a push by proponents
of tighter regulation in Brussels on Monday.
In a statement Monday, Viviane Reding, the Union's justice
commissioner, who originally proposed new rules overhauling and
updating the bloc's privacy standards in early 2012, praised "this
commitment of Chancellor Merkel" to strengthen and uniform data
protection rules in the European Union.
Ms. Merkel's statement, in a television interview Sunday night,
was among the clearest expressions of anger in Germany and
throughout Europe over the disclosures about the National Security
Agency's activities disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, the former
N.S.A. contractor who leaked classified documents.
But it also highlighted the growing strain the episode has placed
on Ms. Merkel, who polls suggest remains in a strong position before
the September elections but who has found herself under increasing
attack from opposition parties who see the matter as an opportunity
to undercut her popularity.
While the memories of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, define U.S.
public concern for security, the history of government surveillance
first under the Nazis and later by the Communist government of East
Germany has translated into a heightened concern among Germans for
citizens' rights to privacy.
Opposition parties have accused Ms. Merkel's government of being
too deferential to the United States over the issue and of allowing
German intelligence agencies to be complicit in the U.S. programs.
Peer Steinbruck, the chancellor's main rival in the election,
said in an interview published Sunday that Ms. Merkel had broken her
oath of office by failing in her duties to protect the German
"As chancellor, Ms. Merkel swore to prevent harm to the German
people," he told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag, stressing that
included the right to protection of their personal data.
Until now Germany has been slow to back an aggressive Europewide
privacy initiative because its national laws are among the tightest
in the Union. But Ms. Merkel said she now believed that only a
broader pact could be effective.
"That has to be part of such a data privacy agreement, because we
have great regulation for Germany, but if Facebook is registered in
Ireland, then it falls under Irish jurisdiction, consequently we
need a common European agreement," the chancellor said.
Facebook, along with Google, has come head to head with German
sensibilities over the speed and breadth of the dissemination of
private information in the age of social media and Internet
Rights groups in Germany and Austria, which has similarly strict
rules guarding private information, have taken on the Silicon Valley
giants over Facebook's default settings on sharing personal data and
Google's scooping up of private information while mapping out German
cities for its Street View service. …