BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning that U.S. intelligence may have targeted her mobile phone, saying that would be “a serious breach of trust” if confirmed.
For its part, the White House denied that the U.S. is listening in on Merkel’s phone calls now.
“The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges.”
Carney, however, did not specifically say that the U.S. had never monitored or obtained Merkel’s communications.
The German government said it responded after receiving “information that the chancellor’s cellphone may be monitored” by U.S. intelligence. It wouldn’t elaborate, but German news magazine Der Spiegel, which has published material from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, said its research triggered the response.
Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement the chancellor made clear to Obama in a phone call that “she views such practices, if the indications are confirmed … as completely unacceptable.”
Merkel said among close partners such as Germany and the U.S., “there must not be such surveillance of a head of government’s communication,” Seibert added. “That would be a serious breach of trust. Such practices must be stopped immediately.”
Carney, the White House spokesman, said the U.S. is examining Germany’s concerns as part of an ongoing review of how the U.S. gathers intelligence.
The White House has cited that review in responding to similar spying concerns from France, Brazil and other countries.
U.S. allies knew that the Americans were spying on them, but they had no idea how much.
As details of National Security Agency spying programs have become public, citizens, activists and politicians in countries from Latin America to Europe have lined up to express shock and outrage at the scope of Washington’s spying.
Merkel had previously raised concerns over the electronic eavesdropping issue when Obama visited Germany in June. She has demanded answers from the U.S. government and backed calls for greater European data protection. Wednesday’s statement, however, was much more sharply worded and appeared to reflect frustration over the answers provided so far by the U.S. government.
Merkel called for U.S. authorities to clarify the extent of surveillance in Germany and to provide answers to “questions that the German government asked months ago,” Seibert said.
Overseas politicians are also using the threat to their citizens’ privacy to drum up their numbers at the polls – or to distract attention from their own domestic problems. Some have even downplayed the matter to keep good relations with Washington.
After a Paris newspaper reported the NSA had swept up 70.3 million French telephone records in a 30-day period, the French government called the U.S. ambassador in for an explanation and put the issue of personal data protection on the agenda of the European Union summit that opens today.