Germany’s recent experience with its own NSA domestic spying, mass surveillance and civil rights scandal.

Malte Spitz, a German public figure and politician, published a lengthy and insightful opinion piece in the New York Times on June 29, 2013.  He explained that in 2010 Germany was collecting and recording telephone “metadata” on 80 million German citizens in much the same way the US is doing to Americans through the NSA domestic spying program.  The German mass surveillance program was smaller in scope than the NSA domestic spying program and the storage of all the data, unlike in the NSA case, was limited to 6 months.  The civil rights implications of the data collection program were not lost on the public.

The response in Germany to mass surveillance and domestic spying was outrage that their government would begin implementing domestic spying on every German citizen in violation of their civil rights.  The German people remember all to well the days of Nazi terror and the collection of data by both the Nazis and the communist East German governments.  In the hands of those governments, information files on law abiding citizens were used to control and manipulate society and to identify and discipline those who might disagree with the policies of the central government.  The domestic surveillance files were used to intimidate judges, police officers, public figures and common citizens.

With those lessons of civil rights history, and with a firm belief that individual freedom is the antidote to civil rights violations, the German people stood up and demanded that their government end the domestic spying program.  They succeeded.  In doing so Germany has, for this brief moment in time, become a shining light to the world.  For this brief moment in time, our own NSA is a disgrace to our nation and to the rights of man.

How strange that a land that within the last 80 years has known such repression and hate as the Nazis and the Stazi can have risen to be a true champion of freedom and civil rights.  More than a tribute to the people of that nation, it’s a tribute to humanity.  At one time America was that shining light to the world.  We can be again.  But it is with some irony that I note it is the German people, with their intimate knowledge of the evil that can be done by a government that maintains dossiers and data collection on every citizen, who are holding the torch for us Americans as we take a short break.

Let us prepare to take up the torch again.  Let us do it with thanks to our NATO allies who have reminded us of the importance of freedom and liberty.  Let us be that shining light to the world again.  Let us be a light for ourselves.

Join with us in saying no to the seizing of phone records and email without a search warrant.  Join us in saying no to the NSA’s domestic spying program and violations of or constitutional rights and civil rights.  I am going to ask you to think about two words you might not have heard since you took that civics class way back in high school: Probable Cause.  Those two words are the fundamental requirement that the government must show before it can arrest anyone or seize their papers, documents or records.

This is spelled out precisely in the Bill of Rights (specifically the 4th Amendment).  This is the most fundamental law of America.   That and free speech are exactly what our flag stands for.  It is what Francis Scott Key was writing about when he asked and sang “does that star spangled banner yet wave oer the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The 4th Amendment requires that before any document or record can be taken by the government a warrant for the document must be issued and that the warrant can only issue if there is probable cause to believe that the person who’s records are being taken has committed a crime.  But no one has shown probable cause to believe that you or I committed any crime.  And no warrant has been issued even suggesting that.  Instead the secret court has issued orders for all the “metadata” on every American without a warrant and without a showing of probable cause.  The NSA has secretly launched mass surveillance and domestic spying programs on the American people; but now some of those programs have been brought to light.

Excerpts from Mr. Spitz article illustrate the German historical perspective on NSA domestic spying, mass surveillance and civil rights. It only takes a brief thought about what these programs were capable of doing in Germany many years ago, before modern computing even existed, to bring chills to those of us who are students of history. The artical appeared in the York Times, June 29, 2013

BERLIN —  [Mr. Spitz writing about the 2010 German governments equivalent of the NSA program, which collected “metadata” on every German citizen]  Quoting Mr. Spitz: “… All of this data had to be kept so that law enforcement agencies could gain access to it. That meant that the metadata of 80 million Germans was being stored, without any concrete suspicions and without cause…

This “preventive measure” was met with huge opposition in Germany. Lawyers, journalists, doctors, unions and civil liberties activists started to protest. In 2008, almost 35,000 people signed on to a constitutional challenge to the law. In Berlin, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest data retention. In the end, the Constitutional Court ruled that the implementation of the European Union directive was, in fact, unconstitutional…

In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored…

… We have not forgotten what happens when secret police or intelligence agencies disregard privacy. It is an integral part of our history and gives young and old alike a critical perspective on state surveillance systems. … Lots of young Germans have a commitment not only to fight against fascism but also to stand up for their own individual freedom…

… Three weeks ago, when the news broke about the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata in the United States, I knew exactly what it meant. My records revealed the movements of a single individual; now imagine if you had access to millions of similar data sets. You could easily draw maps, tracing communication and movement. You could see which individuals, families or groups were communicating with one another. You could identify any social group and determine its major actors. … All of this is possible without knowing the specific content of a conversation, just technical information — the sender and recipient, the time and duration of the call and the geolocation data…

…  And the events of the past few weeks concerning the collection of metadata and private e-mail and social-media content have made many Germans further question …

… whether Americans actually share our understanding of the right balance between liberty and security. In the past, we celebrated the fact that both countries valued this balance, and there was huge solidarity with America after 9/11.

…When huge data storage rather than targeted pursuit of individuals becomes the norm, all sense of proportionality and accountability is lost.  …  The challenge we face is to once again find shared values, so that trust between our countries is restored.”

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I must take Mr. Spitz to task on one issue: we Americans do understand the meaning and importance of liberty and of our civil rights.  We too see the danger that creeps in when a government begins spying on its own citizens and engages is mass surveillance, data collection and domestic spying.  Thank you for reminding us, but as an American I must also remind Mr. Spitz that for the past 200 years America has held the freedom torch.  So I will take these cements as constructive criticism of the NSA program and a reminder of what America’s roll in the world should be.  Our NATO allies do not need to doubt the American people and our resolve.  I believe we will get this right. We will end the NSA’s domestic spying and mass surveillance programs.  We are a democracy, and our voices will be heard.