Spy Culture


BONN (Own report) - Within a few weeks, another German company expanding abroad, the Deutsche Telekom, has been accused of engaging in illegal spying practices. This enterprise, in which the state is still a shareholder, has been spying on its own personnel as well as journalists and even possibly placed foreign shareholders "under surveillance," according to press accounts. The Telekom accessed telecommunications data for which even police investigators would have needed a court order. Recently the discount food chain Lidl, was criticized for its wide-scale spying on its personnel. It was made public that the Siemens Corp. in Munich is aiding German intelligence agencies in wiretapping actions against its clients. The various spy scandals extend beyond domestic significance, because these companies are accelerating their foreign expansion, thereby becoming more influential in applying these methods. Siemens has subsidiaries in 190 countries around the world, Lidl has twice as many stores abroad as it has inside Germany. The Telekom, which is cooperating in a "security partnership" with German government repressive agencies, is targeting new acquisitions and seeking to become the world market leader in telecommunications.

Intelligence Service Standards

The most recent spy scandal in Germany again involved a private enterprise, the Deutsche Telekom, with its headquarters in Bonn. Until now it was German foreign intelligence that justified its domestic spying on employees and journalists, arguing that "the leaks" from within its own organization had to be plugged, to halt news reports spiced with insider information. The Deutsche Telekom now uses this justification. The company's presidium was so enraged over media reports that it sicced its "company's security" department, with its several hundred employees, on possible press informers. For 18 months, they took several hundred thousands of records of conventional and cell phone connections from managers and board members, to compare these to records of connections from business news journalists. A Telekom informer is said to have infiltrated the staff of a news office. The surveillance of a "shareholder with headquarters in New York" was supposedly "concretely planned and ordered,"[1] referring probably to the shareholder Blackstone. According to someone, who was evidently involved in the spying, the Telekom action "could be described as extraordinarily exhaustive and sophisticated, even by intelligence service standards."[2]

More Than Expected

At the domestic level, spying on employees and journalists, using records of telephone communications of Telekom clients, is doubly serious. If the reports prove true - the state's attorney's office in Bonn is currently investigating - it would mean that the company has committed serious crimes - including the violation of telecommunications privacy. But above all, as the German leader of their branch, the company has become more important to the police and intelligence services, since all telephone and internet connection data must be stored for a period of six months. These can be consulted legally only in cases of serious crimes and with a court issued warrant. The German press gingerly writes that "now at least the old Telekom management can be suspected of having done more than one could have expected."[3]

Telekom Abroad

The scandal has taken on an international significance through the fact that the Deutsche Telekom over the years has been accelerating its expansion abroad. Clients of companies in foreign countries taken over by Telekom are also victims of this particular entrepreneurial culture in Bonn. The Deutsche Telekom has subsidiaries in about 50 nations around the world and is continuing to buy up foreign companies. Just a few days ago, Telekom took over the Greek OTE telecommunications company, against strong resistance, providing access to companies in Rumania, Bulgaria; Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. A billion dollar company in the USA is also being considered.[4] If this materializes, the Deutsche Telekom will have accomplished the leap to the top, as the leader of the world market. Also in consideration are expansion measures for Great Britain, Austria and Russia.

Electronic "Intelligence"

Over the past few weeks, even before Telekom, other internationally expanding major German enterprises have captured the headlines through spy scandals. In April it became known that employees of the Siemens Corp., headquartered in Munich, not only can dial into all Siemens installed telephone switchboard installations around the world, but that they even facilitated the German foreign intelligence service to access the telephone communications of their foreign clients.[5] According to the press, "in the field of electronic intelligence" the BND (Federal Intelligence Service) is among "the best in the world."[6] Siemens has business relations in 190 nations on all continents.

Spying on Employees

Also through spying, but not in connection with the German secret services, the discount food chain, Lidl, was making headlines already back in March. The company had placed employees in more than 500 of its stores under detective surveillance. The behavior of the employees was video recorded and submitted to a detailed analysis, even concerning personal matters.[7] This provoked nationwide outrage. Lidl, whose business practices in Germany have been heavily criticized for several years [8] has been systematically expanding abroad, and today claims to be Europe's largest chain of discount food stores. Lidl has around 3,000 stores in Germany as opposed to more than 7,000 elsewhere.[9] In the meantime, the company is beginning to encounter resistance in some countries, for example Sweden. For several years, Lidl has been seeking to expand there, but has not had the aspired success. In this Scandinavian country, this German discount store is widely criticized for its low social standards, as shown in the spy scandals, and avoided by many.[10]

Exchange of Information

The spy scandals of the past few weeks, the most recent having been sparked by the Deutsche Telekom, are all linked to major German companies that have significantly expanded abroad. Spying on employees and clients had been ordered from the headquarters in Germany, whose international influence is enhanced with each expanding step. The growing espionage is accompanied by tighter cooperation between the German enterprise and the police and intelligence services. The Deutsche Telekom, for example, that has deliberately violated telecommunications privacy, is a member of the "Association for Security in Business of North Rhine-Westphalia" an alliance of enterprises that has formalized their cooperation with state repressive authorities. The member companies of this business association commit themselves "to intensify the exchange of information and mutual consultation and support between the police and the 'Defense of the Constitution' (domestic spy service) and the businesses in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia."[11] The spy scandals, that are accompanied by tighter cooperation between enterprises and the repressive authorities, as well as the growing influence of German companies around the world, provides an impression of how future scenarios of surveillance could be.

[1], [2], [3] Projekt "Clipper"; Der Spiegel 26.05.2008
[4] see also Colonialist and Masterplan
[5] see also Exchange of Information
[6] Beste Verbindung; Süddeutsche Zeitung 14.04.2008
[7] Lidl zieht erste Konsequenzen; tagesschau.de 26.03.2008
[8] Lidl-Kampagne; www.verdi.de/lidl/
[9] "Die machen einem die Hölle heiß!"; Deutschlandfunk 01.05.2008
[10] see also Du gamla, du fria... and Imageprobleme
[11] Sicherheitspartnerschaft NRW; www.sicherheit-in-der-wirtschaft.de. See also Nationaler Sicherheitsrat