BERLIN -- In the pages the German tabloid Bild, President Barack Obama on Tuesday had been renamed OHRbama (Ohr is the German word for ear). He was pictured leaning over to listen to German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a grossly oversized ear.
In a televised interview, French President Francois Hollande used angry words to describe the United States and an eavesdropping program whose size and scope were revealed in weekend news stories that cited documents leaked by one-time NSA computer specialist Edward Snowden. Hollande said the spying must cease immediately.
We cannot accept this kind of behavior from partners and allies, he added.
Europeans, and especially East Germans who a generation ago lived under the oppressive Stasi intelligence agency, were amazed by the allegations. At least one German politician has suggested that Snowden be given refuge in Germanys witness protection program, and a criminal investigation might soon be launched.
It is certain to become a major issue between the United States and Europe.
According to the reports, first detailed by the German news magazine Der Spiegel, the U.S. National Security Agency is monitoring 500 million German communications each month and has classified Germany as a target on a level with China and Saudi Arabia. The United States also allegedly is bugging European Union offices, monitoring EU communications, and scooping up the emails and phone calls of EU nations citizens.
The monitoring of friends this is unacceptable, it cant be tolerated, Merkel said. Were no longer in the Cold War. Our cooperation must be based on trust. This trust must be re-established now.
German federal prosecutors are now officially observing the situation, to determine if criminal charges brought to them by various German citizens should be pursued.
David Livingstone, a cyber-security expert at Londons Chatham House think tank, noted that, in the end, the governments of Europe understand that everyone spies a bit.
A government that isnt taking steps to understand what another government is doing to gain an economic advantage, for instance is rare, he said. This is how diplomatic intelligence has been conducted for centuries.
Still, he noted that the scope of information available to those who gather it has exploded with the emergence of the Internet. Electronic devices, from smart phones to e-readers to iPads and other tablets, are ubiquitous, generating uncountable bits of metadata about who we call, how long we talk to them, what we read, and what we watch, all of which apparently is being collected and stored away.
Its not exactly new or news that cell and smart phones track their users locations, but less known is that many apps stay in contact with the companies that launched them and can provide in-depth profiles of how a life is lived.
Livingstone said the Snowden revelations may lead to a long-coming international debate on exactly what privacy people should be giving up when they live in an online world and what should remain private.
Twitter connects us and allows us to share our thoughts instantly on Wimbledon, and thats amazing, he said. But, oh, the dangers.
German open-government activist Anke Domscheit-Berg, a member of the German Pirate Party, is unwilling to give the U.S. a pass on spying. She said Merkels tough words werent nearly harsh enough and raised the question of whether the German government was aware of, or perhaps involved in, similar activities.