President Obama landed in Berlin Tuesday evening for his first official visit to the German capital, but his reception in the privacy-loving nation might have been warmer if not for the recent revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.
A few dozen demonstrators gathered at Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall crossing that became a historic symbol of Cold War tensions. Wielding signs reading "Yes We Scan" and "Privacy Ends Here," the group told reporters that they see widespread data collection as a human rights violation.
Here are a few of the images from the demonstration, via Digitale Gesellschaft, a German advocacy group:
The protest was small, but it speaks to larger rifts over privacy between the U.S. and Germany, where memories of the Stasi still linger. It's estimated that one in every seven East Germans was once a Stasi informer, and the secret police monitored almost every form of communication there in an attempt to root out anti-Communist sentiment. Germans seem repulsed by anything that even resembles that level of surveillance, and in the past they've gone to great lengths in order to force Internet companies to protect user data.
When the NSA story broke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to raise the issue with Obama, and the country's justice minister wrote in an op-ed that said, "The more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is."
But it will be interesting to see if Obama's historic popularity in Germany, the close U.S.-German relationship, and the NSA's recent claims that its spying program prevented more than 50 terrorist plots since 2011 will make a difference in Germans' current anti-Obama sentiment.
On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Merkel herself had softened her stance toward PRISM on the eve of Obama's arrival in Berlin.
"It did surprise me to a certain extent, though on the other hand we recognize that the United States has taken up the fight against terrorism," Merkel said in an interview.
In fact, Der Spiegel magazine recently reported that Germany's own intelligence agency is expanding Internet surveillance with a $133 million program.
"With the new capabilities, the BND wants to ensure that cross-border traffic can be monitored as comprehensively as possible, just as is done in the United States by the National Security Agency," a German press agency reported.
What's the German equivalent of "Yes We Scan" -- Ich bin ein data miner?
This article available online at: