Germans loved Obama. Now we don’t trust him


Malte Spitz is a member of the German Green Party

In May 2010, I received a brown envelope. In it was a CD with an encrypted file containing six months of my life. Six months of metadata, stored by my cellphone provider, T-Mobile. This list of metadata contained 35,830 records. That’s 35,830 times my phone company knew if, where and when I was surfing the Web, calling or texting.

The truth is that phone companies have this data on every customer. I got mine because, in 2009, I filed a suit against T-Mobile for the release of all the data on me that had been gathered and stored. The reason this information had been preserved for six months was because of Germany’s implementation of a 2006 European Union directive…

This “preventive measure” was met with huge opposition in Germany. Lawyers, journalists, doctors, unions and civil liberties activists started to protest. In 2008, almost 35,000 people signed on to a constitutional challenge to the law. In Berlin, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest data retention. In the end, the Constitutional Court ruled that the implementation of the European Union directive was, in fact, unconstitutional.

In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored…

With Edward J. Snowden’s important revelations fresh in our minds, Germans were eager to hear President Obama’s recent speech in Berlin. But the Barack Obama who spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate to a few thousand people on June 19 looked a lot different from the one who spoke in front of the Siegessäule in July 2008 in front of more than 200,000 people, who had gathered in the heart of Berlin to listen to Mr. Obama, then running for president. His political agenda as a candidate was a breath of fresh air compared with that of George W. Bush. Mr. Obama aimed to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, end mass surveillance in the so-called war on terror and defend individual freedom.

But the senator who promised to shut Guantánamo is now a second-term president who is still fighting for its closure. And the events of the past few weeks concerning the collection of metadata and private e-mail and social-media content have made many Germans further question Mr. Obama’s proclaimed commitment to the individual freedoms we hold dear.

We ended up with a Harvard lawyer trained to distort freedoms to fit into a legalese framework that our Constitution allows – and somehow that aligns with the spirit of that document. But, the Bill of Rights was added because of the shortcoming within that first document penned by a group of consensus-laden politicians.

The tradition has been carried forward by political hacks from the two parties we’re allowed. Diminishing the freedom of individual citizens is considered fair game by the same category of lawyers who made corporations into people. Our difference in economic standing notwithstanding.

Obama’s ethics are nothing but the same old crap centrism, a middle-of-the-road litany designed to save reactionary economics and limited freedom.

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