Germany moves to kick out Verizon, citing concerns of US spying

The German government announced Thursday that it would prevent Verizon Communications from continuing to operate in the country as a reaction to US government spying. 

John Minchillo/AP/File
A pedestrian passes a Verizon Wireless store in New York last year. Germany will stop operations with the telecoms company as part of its reaction to revelations of US spying efforts.

Germany wants Verizon out. 

On Thursday, the German government announced it would no longer allow the US telecom firm Verizon Communications to continue operations in the country. This decision is a reaction to revelations last year of US spying, as revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. 

Verizon, the second largest US telephone company after AT&T, was reportedly required to turn over national and international customer data to US intelligence agencies. 

Germany has been particularly upset by the US spying revelations since it was revealed that the cellphone of German chancellor Angela Merkel was targeted in the US spying efforts. 

In a statement, the German Interior Ministry outlined ongoing plans to restructure information and communication policies to protect consumers' privacy against outside intrusion, such as the NSA spying program. The decision to sever ties with Verizon marks an acute example of the government's greater overhaul of its communication infrastructure. 

For its part, Verizon says that the US government has no access to customers’ data outside the US.

“We have made it clear that the U.S. government cannot access customer information that is stored outside the United States,” Detlef Eppig, managing director of Verizon Germany, said in a statement on Thursday, according to The New York Times

But European telecoms and Internet companies are already using the fallout from last year's revelations to begin gaining market share, taking advantage of consumers' distrust of American companies. Notably, European company Deutsche Telekom will take over Verizon's former contracts in Germany once Verizon's services are phased out by 2015, reports The Wall Street Journal

Taken more broadly, Germany's decision underscores the trend that attitudes toward US spying are getting worse, not better, causing worry among US technology companies, as Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith said in a conference last week. 

"There's been a real economic backlash as well as a political backlash," says Elizabeth Goiten, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program at New York University Law School. 

This decision also comes after Google recently decided to begin removing some users' information from its search results in the European Union after a landmark ruling from the highest court in the European Union that ruled in favor of the so-called "right to be forgotten" in May.  

Ms. Goiten says these examples illustrate striking differences in attitudes toward privacy between the United States and Europe

“In Europe, people have traditionally been less concerned about their own governments and more concerned about private companies," she says. "It’s traditionally been the opposite in the US,” Goiten says, noting that US citizens have often directed privacy concerns against the US government, not private companies. 

In the US, she says, privacy issues need to be assuaged through a change in the law. That, she says, and a greater effort on the part of individuals to safeguard their data, using tools such as encryption software, she says. 

A country like Germany has the option of turning to a European company anxious to steal customers from American companies. Whereas in the US, "we don't have those options," she says. 

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