|(Illustration: Liu Rui/GT)|
Germany made a meaningful move recently when it requested the top US intelligence official in Berlin leave in light of a yearlong scandal over spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). The move is an act of growing discontent in Germany at what they consider US indifference toward being caught spying on a close ally.
In fact, last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was revealed to be using an encrypted SIM card in her mobile phone. She, like many of her fellow countrymen, has begun taking protective methods against the NSA's extensive spy program. For many citizens, these protective measures are verging on paranoia, which is clearly related to the country's history.
Privacy is highly valued in Germany, and the fear of not maintaining it overrides many actions. Wiretapping, spying and betrayal were a grave reality for many Germans during the Cold War, regardless of whether or not they posed a threat to their government. Current events seem trigger alarm bells from a traumatic past.
When the revelations of the NSA spying scandal broke in 2013, this touched the German population in a sensitive spot. Long gone are the days when people used their real names on Facebook, but since this time last year, the paranoia has notably risen.
My father now speaks to me in riddles when telling me important information over the phone, many of my friends place duct tape over the webcam on their laptops, and, in extreme cases, people have even begun to whisper in their own homes again.
The rising culture of mistrust in Germany is, of course, more related to paranoia than reality. However, the NSA's actions have certainly affected the way the average German views the US, and have spread disbelief in the legitimacy of the German government.
Comments under newspaper articles published on Spiegel Online convey a strong feeling of betrayal by the government. Many readers refer to the US as their "colonial master," and there have been renewed emphasis and skepticism toward the military bases that remain in Germany to this day.
After a recent piece of news that revealed the presence of at least 200 official US spies in Germany, one reader pointed out that the scandal seems to be anchored in the German legal system, and that nothing can be done, for "how can one vote freely when about 80,000 foreign troops are stationed in Germany."
This feeling of helplessness seems to be shared by many other users, particularly following the failure of the No-Spy Agreement which their government wasn't able to push through earlier this year.
As bitter as it is, those who care about maintaining privacy under the given circumstances are left to their own devices. More and more Germans are resorting to alternative data protection methods, such as e-mail encryption, in order to avoid the watchful eyes of authorities.
Some have tried to limit their Internet presence altogether, reducing online purchases, and even deleting their WhatsApp accounts following Facebook's purchase of the messaging app. Several organizations and individuals have even begun legal proceedings against US, British and German intelligence services in order to fight against the infringement of their privacy.
While both the US and German governments continue to justify mass surveillance through terrorism, more people in Germany fall victim to fascist violence than to terrorist attacks, and more people in the US suffer due to loose gun laws than due to radical Islamists. Meanwhile, citizens are gaining the impression that it is all a pretext to justify snooping around.
A government which spies on its own citizens on behalf of another state could quickly trigger a national crisis, particularly among a populace as sensitive as the German one, and protests are already on the rise.
Merkel's expulsion of the top US intelligence official is a first step in regaining the German people's trust, but it will take a lot more. It is up to those in power, after all, to take the citizens' demands and historic experience very seriously.