Leakers, privacy activists find new home in Berlin - The Washington Post

A rare privacy haven

For many of the privacy advocate expatriates, Britain and the United States don’t feel very comfortable anymore. Former Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who has asked to be known as Chelsea, was sentenced to 35 years in prison this year after releasing a trove of State Department cables to WikiLeaks in 2010. Snowden is under indictment in the United States on charges of espionage. David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has reported on many of the Snowden leaks in the Guardian newspaper, was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport in August under terrorism-related statutes. And New York Times journalist James Risen is risking jail by refusing to testify in the trial of a former CIA official who is accused of leaking information.

The uproar within Germany about the U.S. surveillance allegations has been the strongest of any American ally. Top German officials have flown to Washington to push for new restrictions on U.S. spy activity in their country. Major German telecommunications companies have announced efforts to build a new Internet infrastructure that would keep domestic Internet traffic firmly within national borders, thus ensuring, they say, that German national privacy law would be respected.

And the leakers themselves have been hailed as heroes and offered at least some officialprotection. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in an interview last month that U.S. authorities had asked her to sign an agreement to extradite Snowden to the United States should he step foot on German soil. She refused, she said.

“Germany has a history with these types of issues that is not forgotten, but it is in fact carried forth and remembered today,” Appelbaum said in August during a ceremony in Berlin at which Snowden was awarded a whistleblower prize.

Historical consciousness

Privacy advocates say Germany is particularly sensitive to privacy concerns because of its 20th-century history of being watched over — first by the Nazis, then in Communist East Germany by the secret police known as the Stasi. Some Stasi victims say that explanation is a bit too glib, because the United States and modern-day Germany are democracies and East Germany was not.

Among hackers, the city is world-renowned. Groups here such as the Chaos Computer Club provide homes to technology geeks who like to do everything from crack the new iPhone’s ­fingerprint sensor to design ways to stay hidden on the Internet.

Businesses have started to take note, which means that the new transplants might find plenty of opportunities to earn paychecks. GSMK, a secure-cellphone company, is headquartered in Berlin and says that it is receiving more than five times the usual amount of inquiries about its products.

“It’s of utmost importance that our customers can trust that the parts that we build are actually trustworthy, and Germany is a good place to do so,” GSMK chief executive Bjoern Rupp said. “German law really makes sure that you can build strong crypto products.” He wouldn’t locate his company any other place, he said.

In 1990, “after reunification, the city had to reinvent itself. It was a question of survival,” he said. “And ever since then, it has been characterized by dynamism that I don’t think you’d find in any other European capital.”