Daily revelations of an ever-widening spying scandal involving Deutsche Telekom and other leading German businesses have both riveted and appalled the country. The telecom giant is under investigation for allegedly spying on its employees as well as journalists in order to stop leaks of sensitive internal information to the media. Telekom, which apparently handed over hundreds of thousands of phone records to detective agencies for the mole hunt, issued a press release a month ago acknowledging “the illegal use of communications data” from 2005 to 2006, though it denied listening to conversations. But recently, government investigators searched the office of CEO René Obermann. While Obermann, who took over in November 2006, has denied involvement in the scandal, he apparently knew about the allegations as early as last summer.
The uproar over the misuse of private information got more intense when Spiegel TV reported that one of the firms allegedly used by Telekom to snoop on industry journalists as far back as 2000 was run by former informants for the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. It was a chilling reminder of Germany’s long history of spying on its own people. And the telecom giant was supposedly doing more than sifting through customer data files: Financial Times Deutschland reported that Telekom had tried to film one of the newspaper’s reporters with a hidden camera to figure out his contact within the firm.
The spying wasn’t confined to Telekom. The national railway Deutsche Bahn and even Deutsche Post now face allegations of crossing ethical and possibly legal lines in their zeal to block media reports. Last month, Lufthansa admitted to analyzing flight records of a board member back in 2000, though it denied doing anything illegal, allegedly to expose a Hamburg airport meeting with a journalist. Still, conservative politician HansPeter Uhl is calling for stronger data protection legislation. He wants companies that misuse their clients’ data to bear the “maximum conceivable penalty.” Nl
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