Netzpolitik.org is arguably the most influential German blog in the realm of digital rights. It played a key role in marshalling protests against ACTA three years ago. You’d think the German government would be proud of it as an example of local digital innovation, but instead, it seems to regard it as some kind of traitor:
The president of the German domestic secret service has filed criminal charges with the public prosecutor because of two of our articles. The accusation: leaking state secrets.
Those two articles concerned a leak about extending bulk surveillance of online users (original in German), and plans to create a new department of the German secret service to extend its Internet surveillance capabilities (in English.) As Netzpolitik’s founder and Editor-in-chief, Markus Beckedahl, explains, he decided to publish this information because it showed that despite Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance, the German government still thinks the best way of spending taxpayers’ money is by spying on them. He adds:
Naturally, we uploaded the original documents relating to our article because there was still enough disk space and because it is part of our philosophy to enable our readers to inform themselves using the original source. Thus, they can scrutinise us and our reporting.
Apparently, this suffices for a twice charge for treason because it seems to be confidential when the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution expands the Internet’s surveillance and keeps social networks under surveillance using the dragnet principle. This affects everybody, e.g. we could be under surveillance because we have sign up for the same Facebook event as a potential terrorist. But a public debate thereon is undesired.
This is not the first time that the German government has given Netzpolitik.org a hard time:
Already in the autumn of 2014, the German Federal Chancellery (German: Bundeskanzleramt, translator’s note) has threatened us with a charge which was also announced but later on abandoned.
Like the present case, that seems a clear attempt to intimidate reporting. As Beckedahl points out, even though the new hunt for whistleblowers is not aimed directly at the blog and its journalists, they are likely to be caught up in any investigation, probably just to act as a warning:
It is very rare that the German Federal Public Prosecutor investigates against journalistic sources. We could not find any case since 2005. Now we shall experience the full rigour of the constitutional state. The charge is not directed straight to our reporting but we are nevertheless affected. We are mentioned and have to expect to be under surveillance and possibly to be subject to a house search.
What makes this kind of bullying doubly outrageous is that there is a rather bigger story regarding the press in Germany: the fact that both the NSA and CIA spied on the news magazine Der Spiegel. And yet rather than investigate that fact, or that other newspapers seem to have been victims too, the German government is more concerned about intimidating journalists that dare to report on its own plans to spy on millions of its citizens.