Merkel says 'Germany not a surveillance state'
Chancellor Angela Merkel said "Germany is not a surveillance state" and insisted she only learnt of sweeping US online snooping through press reports, during a lengthy election-campaign media grilling Friday.
Pressed on the US National Security Agency's PRISM programme, and Germany's knowledge of it, she said was unfamiliar with the details and that Berlin was still awaiting answers from Washington.
Merkel stressed that "German law applies on German soil" but also conceded that this has its limits in the age of global telecommunication systems, as she spoke during an annual summer press conference that lasted 100 minutes.
Nine weeks before elections, pressure is growing on Merkel over spying claims made by fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who also said Germany's BND foreign intelligence service cooperated with the NSA.
The centre-left opposition has charged Merkel broke her oath of office pledge to safeguard citizens' basic rights, especially to privacy of communications -- a sensitive issue given the country's secret police activities under the Nazi and East German communist regimes.
A survey published on Friday by public broadcaster ARD found that more than two-thirds of German voters are dissatisfied with the government's efforts to bring clarity to the murky affair.
However, the same poll also found that, at least so far, this has not dented the Merkel government's lead ahead of September 22 elections. Two-thirds of respondents said the issue would not strongly affect the way they vote.
Merkel, who enjoys the image of a sensible pragmatist at home, again stressed that there are two sides to the debate on security versus freedom.
She reiterated the threat of global terror and the horrors of 9/11 and said it is normal for secret services to cooperate, mentioning past US intelligence help in locating German kidnap victims abroad.
But she also stressed, in general terms, that there must be limits to state snooping, that in some cases "the ends don't justify the means" and that "Germany is not a surveillance state. Germany is a country of freedom."
At the start of the press event, she sought to dampen hopes that she would clear up all the questions -- including whether the German army was informed years ago in Afghanistan of the PRISM programme, as one daily has reported.
"I want the say right away and very clearly that those who came here today expecting me to present the conclusions to our inquiries came here with false expectations," she said. "The task is not finished."
When she was repeatedly pressed on details, Merkel -- whose chancellory office oversees Germany's secret service operations -- said: "It's not my job to familiarise myself with all the details."
© 2013 AFP