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US taps half-billion German phone, net links in a month

US taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month and has classed its biggest European ally as a target similar to China, according to secret US documents quoted by a German news magazine.

The revelations of alleged US surveillance programmes based on documents taken by fugitive former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden have raised a political furore in the United States and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security.

Exposing the latest details in a string of reputed spying programmes, Der Spiegel quoted from an internal NSA document which it said its reporters had seen. The document Spiegel cited showed that the United States categorized Germany as a ‘third-class’ partner and that surveillance there was stronger than in any other EU country, similar in extent to China, Iraq or Saudi-Arabia.

‘We can attack the signals of most foreign third-class partners, and we do it too,’ Der Spiegel quoted a passage in the NSA document as saying.

It said the document showed that the NSA monitored phone calls, text messages, emails and internet chat contributions and has saved the metadata, that is, the connections, not the content - at its headquarters.

On an average day, the NSA monitored about 20 million German phone connections and 10 million internet data sets, rising to 60 million phone connections on busy days, the report said. While it had been known from disclosures by Snowden that the US tapped data in Germany, the extent was previously unclear.

News of US cyber-espionage programme Prism and the British equivalent Tempora have outraged Germans, who are highly sensitive to government monitoring, having lived through the Stasi secret police in the former communist East Germany and with lingering memories of Hitler’s Nazi regime.
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