Thousands protest NSA spying in Germany

Thousands hold demonstrations in several cities against the alleged widespread surveillance of internet users by NSA

Activists demonstrate against the electronic surveillance tactics of the NSA on July 27, 2013 in Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Thousands of people gathered in cities and towns across Germany on Saturday to protest against the widespread surveillance of their internet use by U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency.

Protesters, responding to calls by a loose network calling itself "stopwatchingus," went on the streets in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and up to 35 other communities.

Germany, along with much of central Europe, is going through a heat wave, which accounted for lower numbers than expected. In Frankfurt, authorities estimated that around 1,000 people showed up, fewer than the 5,000 protesters that were expected.

Some protesters wore tinfoil hats to both shield themselves from the sun and make a political statement about warding off unwanted eavesdroppers, according to Agence France Presse.

Others held placards showing support for former National Security contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed documents detailing the agency's extensive secret surveillance program known as Prism.

The revelations about the extent of Prism has been especially contentious in Germany after media reports claimed the NSA had conducted wide-scale gathering of electronic data, including e-mails, of German citizens.

For many, it brought back memories of the much-feared Stasi secret police of East Germany and their vast network of informants. One German politician went so far as to call Prism the "American-style Stasi,'' Reuters reported.

Merkel under fire

German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of the NSA's alleged interception of Web traffic when U.S. President Barack Obama visited Berlin last month.

But German newspaper SPIEGEL reported earlier this week that German intelligence agencies collaborated with the NSA and deployed some of its most powerful data collection tools, even after Angela Merkel became chancellor.

Based on NSA documents first released by Snowdon, the newspaper also reported that German foreign intelligence services traveled to the NSA’s headquarters in Maryland to receive training in data-gathering last April.

German opposition parties remain skeptical of the government's claim that it had known nothing about the surveillance.

"The German government is behaving like an obedient altar boy to U.S. security policies," Renate Künast, the Green Party's floor leader in parliament, told SPIEGEL. "Supervised by the Chancellery, the BND [Germany’s foreign intelligence service] is dealing in our private data.”

Hansjörg Geiger, who has served as head of both the BND and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said that unlimited data retention and surveillance needs to be stopped, according to SPIEGEL.

"It is wrong, it is Orwellian," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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