Germany's external spy agency saves tens of millions of phone records every day, according to leaked files that expose its NSA-style mass surveillance programme for the first time.
The Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, collects metadata on 220 million calls every day, with at least some of this data passed onto the NSA.
Moreover, the information hoovered up includes records of phone numbers involved in a call or text message, the time of a communication and the length of a call (but, crucially, not the content of a communication).
BND carries out surveillance of international communications sent by both satellites and internet cables that pass through one of several key locations, Die Zeit Online reports.
Zeit Online has learned from secret BND documents that agency locations are involved in gathering huge amounts of metadata. Metadata vacuumed up across the world (220 million pieces a day) flows into BND branch offices in the German towns of Schöningen, Reinhausen, Bad Aibling and Gablingen.
There, they are stored for between a week and six months and sorted according to still-unknown criteria.
But the data aren’t just collected; they are also used to keep tabs on, and track of, suspects.
The collection of telecoms traffic of German citizens would breach national data protection laws. The "classified files" omit a full explanation of either how this data is collected or how the call records of German citizens are filtered off before this information is stored.
The leaked intelligence docs revealed that approximately one per cent of the metadata trawl every day is stored for up to 10 years. The remainder is discarded after weeks or months.
Privacy group Access Now, which according to its website "defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world", called on the BND to curtail its NSA-style "collect-it-all" programme, with Germany being one of the most vocal international critics of NSA surveillance.
Peter Micek, a policy counsel and telecoms expert at Access, said the revelations about German spying showed the importance of getting international safeguards and agreements about online privacy rights.
Micek argued that mass surveillance is a poor tool in fighting terrorism: "What happened in Paris was terrible, but now I think that officials are simply grasping at straws. Retaining more data on ordinary users — regardless on what level — is not going to solve our problems."
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, which claims to "fight for the right to privacy across the world", added that "untargeted telephone surveillance being undertaken by BND is neither necessary nor proportionate and must be brought under control".
"Saying that it is collecting personal information from non-Germans is no justification for this level of spying, and is an insult to the rest of the world," he told Die Welt. ®