Leading German telcos face NSA, GCHQ spy probe

German authorities are preparing a far-reaching probe into claims that U.S. and UK intelligence agencies have free and easy access to telecoms data from major telecoms operators including Deutsche Telekom.

German chancellor Angela Merkel

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel

In the latest twist to a long-running privacy row sparked by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, investigators for the German government will quiz the leaders of telecoms companies about reports the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ are able to access data at will using a computer programme named Treasure Map.

The programme offered the foreign intelligence agencies near real-time access to data on German routers, PCs, smartphones and tablet PCs, Bloomberg reported, adding that the probe will involve people who were managers at telecoms companies as far back as 2001.

While Deutsche Telekom and NetCologne--a local telecoms service provider--denied finding evidence of the snooping, satellite operator Stellar PCS said it had, the news agency added.

However, the denials appear to have been scotched by a graphical view of interception points generated by Treasure Map, German daily Der Spiegel reported.

The New York Times last year explained that Treasure Map collects Wi-Fi network, geo-location data, and between 30 million and 50 million IP addresses daily.

Deutsche Telekom in June emerged as the frontrunner to replace U.S. telco Verizon as the communications service provider for Germany's government, after initial claims by Snowden of widespread snooping by the U.S. At the time, a government spokesperson said the change would enable it to have more control over its communications, but did not confirm if Verizon--service provider to the German government since 2010--had passed data to U.S. agencies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in February reportedly discussed the creation of a European communications network to prevent spying by overseas governments, during a meeting with French president Francois Hollande. Those discussions followed reports Merkel's own smartphone had been compromised as part of NSA and GCHQ spying.

Most countries in the region can call for service providers to turn over user data in specific circumstances, such as investigating potential acts of terrorism.

Operators including Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and TeliaSonera have since published details of the requests they have received for such so-called 'lawful interception' in a series of transparency reports.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- read Der Spiegel's report [in German]
- see this New York Times article

Related Articles:
Deutsche Telekom favourite to replace Verizon as German government comms provider
TeliaSonera latest to reveal authorities' communication-interception requests
European leaders discuss home-grown comms network to prevent U.S. spying
Deutsche Telekom launches mobile encryption app
NSA, GCHQ target 'leaky' apps to gather data on smartphone users, according to Snowden leak