The world was a different place when, in October 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) struck down the “Safe Harbour” data-sharing agreement that allowed the transfer of European citizens’ data to the US. The Court’s decision concluded that the indiscriminate nature of the surveillance programs carried out by U.S. intelligence agencies, exposed two years earlier by NSA-contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, had made it impossible to ensure that the personal data of E.U. citizens would be adequately protected when shared with American companies. The ruling thus served to further solidify the long-standing conventional wisdom that Continental Europe is better at protecting privacy than America.
However, Europe’s ability to continue to take this moral high ground is rapidly declining. In recent months, and in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks across Europe, Germany, France and the United Kingdom — Europe’s biggest superpowers — have passed laws granting their surveillance agencies virtually unfettered power to conduct bulk interception of communications across Europe and beyond, with limited to no effective oversight or procedural safeguards from abuse.
German public radio station rbb-Inforadio reported Wednesday that the country's foreign intelligence agency spied on the FBI and U.S. arms companies, adding to a growing list of targets among friendly nations the agency allegedly eavesdropped on.
The station claimed that Germany's BND also spied on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the World Health Organization, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and even a German diplomat who headed an EU observer mission to Georgia from 2008 to 2011.
It provided no source for its report, but the respected German weekly Der Spiegel also reported at the weekend that the BND targeted phone numbers and email addresses of officials in the United States, Britain, France, Switzerland, Greece, the Vatican and other European countries, as well as at international aid groups such as the Red Cross.
The claims are particularly sensitive in Germany because the government reacted with anger two years ago to reports that the U.S. eavesdropped on German targets, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, who declared at the time that "spying among friends, that's just wrong."
German lawmakers have broadened a probe into the U.S. National Security Agency's activities in the country to include the work of the BND.