Press targets US over the spying scandal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been hit by phone snooping revelations AFP

With friends like these who needs enemies? This the line much of the Swiss media is taking in reaction to the latest revelations of spying by the United States on its European allies. The fallout for Switzerland is also considered.

This content was published on October 25, 2013 - 10:12

The latest revelations state that the US National Security Agency swept up more than 70 million phone records in France and may have tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own mobile phone. The scandal is set to overshadow a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday.

"The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies," the German leader said. "But such an alliance can only be built on trust. That's why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be."

Britain's Guardian newspaper said on Thursday that it had obtained a confidential memo suggesting the NSA was able to monitor 35 world leaders' communications in 2006.

The headline of Geneva’s Le Temps main article says it all: “Europe in shock over US spying”.

For the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger, the news that Merkel ‘s phone may have been tapped must be particularly upsetting for a woman who grew up in the former East Germany – where people were always under scrutiny.

“The phrase is: with friends like these who needs enemies,” said the editorial. “It’s clear that the transatlantic relationship is at risk of damage due to these latest revelations about the spying affair. But the Americans and Europeans need each more than ever in this unsafe world.”

“You can’t count on the Chinese or Russians when it comes to defending the valued of a free and democratic society.”

Imbalanced relationship

Both sides must sit down together: the Americans must recognize that their secret services are “out of control” and the Europeans can’t just be indignant – they have all too often worked with the Americans on security issues. But it appears, the writer said, that it has been an imbalanced relationship. Secret services need rules and democratic control, he added.

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung went further: “if the [allegations about Merkel’s telephone] are true, then the US has made a serious mistake”.

Germans had already been up in arms when allegations of spying by the NSA on German citizens first surfaced over the summer, the paper noted. The chancellor wasn’t given to hysteria, so she must have convincing evidence to speak out, the writer added.

But the fact that secret services needed to act like armies and weapons of the past in an unsecure world did not justify their actions, he continued.  It’s a question of proportion. “In addition, the political devastation is a lot bigger than the expected benefit.” President Obama – who has assured Merkel her phone is not presently being listened to – now has a diplomatic problem.

Swiss angle

The Tages-Anzeiger also looks into the Swiss implications. Are Swiss cabinet ministers mobile phones adequately protected, it pondered.

In the past the cabinet has been told off by parliamentary commissions for not using enough security on their phones, the article said.

Sensitive conversations are carried out using a special encryption application, the paper has revealed. But only up to the level “confidential”  - not for “secret” talks. “So the mobile phones are safe from tapping by secret services,” the article said.

The Federal Chancellery did not want to comment, the Tages-Anzeiger continued, but did point out that ministers left their mobile phones outside the meeting rooms when discussing sensitive issues. But whether that room was secure, has not been revealed.

In June, at the height of the first US spying revelations, the Swiss government condemned the practice. It sought explanations from Washington about alleged snooping on Swiss soil. At that time it was assured that the US had respected Swiss laws.

Nevertheless in September the Swiss government ordered the defence ministry to continue its investigation into any spying activities that had taken place in Switzerland with a view to proposing extra security measures.

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