One of the striking features of the responses to Edward Snowden’s leaks about the snooping being carried out by the NSA and GCHQ is the insistence that everything is, of course, quite “legal.”

But gradually, it has emerged that this “legality” is achieved through the use of loophole after loophole after loophole after loophole. Now it has been revealed that Germany’s intelligence agency, the BND, has also been using this trick to enable it to spy on its own citizens — something that was assumed to be off-limits for it:

The agency, known by its German acronym BND, is not usually allowed to intercept communications made by Germans or German companies, but a former BND lawyer told parliament this week that citizens working abroad for foreign companies were not protected.

The German government confirmed on Saturday that work-related calls or emails were attributed to the employer. As a result, if the employer is foreign, the BND could legally intercept them.

This latest story in the Guardian adds to the impression that widespread domestic surveillance is taking place because of a willful disregarding of the rules through the use of these loopholes. Maybe one way to start to rein in spy agencies would be to insist that they followed the spirit as well as the letter of the law — and if they don’t, to bring in even more stringent definitions of permissible activities in an attempt to close as many of these gaping loopholes as possible.


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