Andre Meister, Angela Merkel, Digital-surveillance, German media, Germany’s democracy, Germany’s federal prosecutor, Government snooping, Harald Range the prosecutor, Heiko Maas the justice minister, Leaked information, Leaks, Markus Beckedahl, Netzpolitik, Spiegel Affair
Between July 24th and August 4th bloggers at Netzpolitik.org lived a ten days real-life legal nightmare, engendered by justice department with Nazi-like approach to the issue of “free press”.
Digital liberty in Germany
State secrets and press freedom in the internet era
IN FEBRUARY and April the German blog Netzpolitik.org published two posts with leaked information about the plans of Germany’s secret service to expand its digital-surveillance budget. They received little attention, in part because of a surfeit of German media coverage about government snooping in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations. In the context, Netzpolitik’s scoop seemed small.
But on July 24th the blog’s publishers, Andre Meister and Markus Beckedahl (pictured), received a letter from Germany’s federal prosecutor saying that they and their anonymous sources were being investigated—for treason. This pressed not one, but two German panic buttons: data privacy and press freedom.
Postwar Germany’s democracy, many feel, was really born in 1962 with the Spiegel Affair. An article in Der Spiegel, a weekly magazine, questioned West Germany’s ability to defend itself against a communist attack. The defence minister had its editorial offices raided and several editors arrested. Just 17 years after the end of the Nazi era, Germans took to the streets in spontaneous rage. The defence minister resigned, the editors were freed and German society proudly declared press freedom sacrosanct.
Netzpolitik is no Spiegel Affair. Nonetheless, news of the investigation brought thousands of Germans on to the streets. Angela Merkel, the chancellor, and Heiko Maas, the justice minister, distanced themselves from the prosecutor, Harald Range. The case will probably be dropped. But in an August 4th press conference Mr Range attacked Mr Maas for “meddling in the independent judiciary”. Mr Maas quickly fired Mr Range.
It would appear that press freedom has won again. Yet the issue will persist. In the information age both government spying and the ability to publish leaked secrets have expanded enormously. Finding the balance between protecting secrets, and over-reacting with treason charges, will occupy governments for some time.