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German government drops Verizon contract over spying concerns

(Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr CC)
(Photo: Scott Beale/Flickr CC)

The German government announced on Thursday that it would not continue its relationship with U.S.-based Verizon Communications for government communication services.

The cancellation of the contract comes as the German government reorganizes its communication services following disclosed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that detailed clandestine surveillance operations against German citizens and others.

German officials were particularly concerned after reports surfaced last year that the U.S. government spied on the cell phone of the country’s chancellor Angela Merkel. Officials were also concerned about Verizon in particular after several secret court documents revealed the company was ordered to hand over detailed cell phone records of every American subscriber.

“There are indications that Verizon is legally required to provide certain things to the NSA, and that’s one of the reasons the cooperation with Verizon won’t continue,” German interior ministry spokesperson Tobias Plate said on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Verizon’s German subsidiary responded by saying the company complied with all consumer privacy laws in the country.

“We have made it clear that the U.S. government cannot access customer information that is stored outside the United States,” Verizon’s Detlef Eppig said in a statement. The company did not say if it cooperated with American or other foreign agents on a case-by-case basis or pursuant to certain legal requirements, such as a domestic or foreign warrant.

Verizon will continue to provide some services to the German government until its working relationship is completely phased out in 2015. From then on, Berlin-based Deutsche Telekom — which competes with Verizon at home and abroad — will provide phone and Internet services to the government.

The situation is the latest involving an American technology company losing business overseas because of spying revelations made public by Snowden.

Last October, Redmond-based Microsoft Corporation lost a lucrative contract with the Brazilian government to provide e-mail services after it was revealed via Snowden-produced documents that the National Security Agency had direct access to the servers of its company and eight others. Microsoft has denied such cooperation with the NSA.

IBM, Cisco, Google and others have also lost business in countries where citizens and governments, fearful that they could be a target of American spying, begin looking inward for e-mail, cloud computing and other technology services.

Wall Street Journal: Germans drop Verizon over NSA spying concerns

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).