Outgoing Deutsche Telekom chief blasts EU and German leaders over surveillance inaction

René Obermann, the chief executive of German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, has attacked the European Commission and the German government for “pussy-footing” around the U.S. on the subject of mass surveillance.

Obermann, who will leave Deutsche Telekom for the relatively small Dutch cable provider Ziggo at the end of this month, said in an interview with Handelsblatt that indiscriminate spying had “shaken confidence in two pillars of our society, free communications and privacy,” and was dangerous for democracy.


While the European Commission has expressed concern over surveillance in Europe by the NSA , it has refused to back the European Parliament’s calls for the suspension of formal data-sharing agreements that have been breached by the U.S.

“It irritates me that the European Commission is not doing enough to put the transatlantic partnership on a new footing,” Obermann said. “The Safe Harbor agreement… that has regulated data exchange… must for example be completely renegotiated. It is negligent that so little is happening there.”

The Deutsche Telekom chief also said EU member states’ data protection policies should be harmonized to strict German standards. (As it happens, on Friday Germany acted as a blocker in moving EU data protection reforms forward, because it feared that having a unified “one stop shop” approach to regulation would weaken its ability to be more stringent than its neighbors.)

“When companies from the U.S. or any other country want to do business here, then they have to adhere to our standards,” Obermann argued. “That is also how one combats economic espionage. I don’t understand the pussy-footing.”

Greater sovereignty

Obermann also touched on Deutsche Telekom’s plan to keep German-to-German online communications within the country’s borders where possible. Acknowledging that proposing a “German internet” would be like asking for a “German sun,” he said the company was just trying to contribute to greater data sovereignty.

“Our suggestion is that all internet service providers at least control internet traffic in the Schengen Area better… The internet will naturally remain open worldwide, but I don’t see why the router is programmed so that, where the sender and receiver are both here, European data is often sent across Asia and the U.S. You can change this without great technical and financial effort. The Americans keep their traffic to themselves as much as possible.”

Of course, the Americans get to do that because most of the big online services are based in the U.S., which is the problem with the bordered-internet idea: there are too few homegrown alternatives to U.S. services (though admittedly most Germans use German webmail providers), and many local services such as media websites are in any case plugged into U.S. services such as Facebook(s fb) and Google(s goog), for “social” purposes. But anyway…

“It would be nice if the media didn’t make fun of every suggestion in this direction.” Oops, sorry about that, René! Better luck with the next suggestion.