RSF asks Bundestag to amend bill allowing spying on foreign journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the German ruling coalition’s parliamentary groups to immediately amend a proposed law on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, in order to prevent the BND from spying on journalists.

The bill empowering the BND to place foreign journalists under surveillance is to be debated in parliament tomorrow.

Instead of clarifying issues, the federal government has completely abandoned the protection of foreign journalists and is poised to legalize measures that would constitute grave violations of two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and media freedom.

We are dismayed to see that Germany’s politicians want to allow our intelligence agency to spy on foreign journalists,” said Christian Mihr, the executive director of RSF’s Berlin bureau.

Until now, Germany’s intelligence laws have spared journalists but the BND bill no longer includes any provision exempting them from surveillance. The BND has journalists from non-European Union member countries in its sights. The German authorities seem to regard media freedom as an exclusively German right and to be unconcerned about what happens to this freedom beyond their borders.

Different status according to nationality

The bill would not permit spying on German citizens and would permit only limited spying on the citizens of other EU countries. But it would permit unrestricted spying on the citizens of non-EU countries if it was decided that the result would help to protect Germany.

Exemptions protecting journalists, such as those in paragraph 3 of Germany’s so-called G10 law – a law specifying the restrictions that can be placed on the constitutional right to the confidentiality of email and telecommunications – are completely absent from this proposed law.

The bill would, for example, allow the BND to place the New York Times under surveillance if the newspaper received confidential information that the German authorities regarded as sensitive.

There was an international outcry just a year ago when it was revealed that the US National Security Agency had been spying on the German magazine Der Spiegel. In its current form, this bill would allow the BND to act in a similar fashion. Worse still, it would allow the BND to share the information it obtained with foreign intelligence agencies.

Instead of depriving foreign journalists of the protection enjoyed by their German colleagues, the government should have addressed the shortcomings and omissions in Germany’s legislation.

RSF has repeatedly pointed out that the G10 law protects only professional journalists who are paid for their work. Bloggers, who in practice are unpaid journalists, do not get the same protection. This has major consequences in many countries, especially in dictatorships where ordinary citizens are liable to be persecuted if they try to function as journalists.

Under the G10 law, these courageous activists become the BND’s unwitting collaborators when they communicate with informants,” Mihr said.

In the light of all these issues, RSF’s German section has decided to file a complaint against the BND. RSF already lodged a complaint with the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig on 30 June 2015, accusing the BND of spying on its email correspondence with its foreign partners and journalists, thereby endangering part of its work. The case is to be heard on 14 December 2016.

RSF’s work is essential both for journalists working in Germany and those working in countries with autocratic regimes (such as Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and China) who exchange sensitive and confidential information with RSF.

Germany is ranked 16th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 22.07.2016