German federal prosecutor launches formal probe into the NSA’s bugging of Merkel’s phone

Germany’s federal prosecutor has launched the country’s first formal investigation into the activities of the NSA in Germany, specifically the U.S. intelligence agency’s reported bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

Harald Range said on Wednesday that the other potential avenue of investigation – that of the surveillance of the German people – remained open, though no investigation was being launched yet due to a lack of evidence. Reports late last week had suggested, inaccurately as it turned out, that there would be no investigation into the Snowden revelations at all.

In a statement on Wednesday, Range said there was sufficient evidence of Merkel’s phone being hacked to launch an investigation into that particular allegation. The federal prosecutor said he would “pursue other new clues” regarding the broader surveillance efforts, noting that some new information may come out of the Merkel-phone probe.

Range also said he was setting up a new unit to investigate “cyber espionage” cases. He said this new unit was necessary because of the complexity and wide impact of such activities, which present his office with “new challenges”.

Despite the historical sensitivity of the Germans to surveillance, the country’s leadership has so far resisted any serious public pushback against the U.S., apart from using the opportunity to back telco proposals for keeping local data in local systems. This, despite the fact that the NSA was reportedly bugging Merkel for over a decade.

Indeed, the German equivalent to the NSA, the BND, is currently seeking $400 million in funding to help it match the NSA’s internet-monitoring capabilities. The BND already monitors much of the internet traffic flowing through Germany, and it’s a bit of an open question as to whether the NSA itself has actually spied on the German populace, or whether the BND did the spying and just passed on information to the U.S.