New documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden suggest the US intelligence service has access to the email communications network of the European Central Bank (ECB) via the US telecommunications provider Verizon.
Last week the German federal government cancelled its contracts with the US company over concerns that it was passing on to the NSA so-called metadata: records of who contacted whom, when and from where.
Now the ECB is facing similar concerns that a Verizon subsidiary, its data communications provider since 2004, has supplied call data to the NSA.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung daily said Verizon Germany was contracted to provide internet access and "clean lines" – safe from hackers – for the central bank and its employees in the Frankfurt region. But an NSA document from April 2013, supposed to be kept secret until April 2038 but seen by the newspaper, obliges Verizon to pass on all metadata to the US intelligence service.
Alarmed German politicians have called on the ECB to follow Berlin’s lead and pull the plug on Verizon.
“It can’t be that the Bundestag and federal government take the necessary consequences and the ECB doesn’t,” said Sven Giegold, a German Green MEP. “If there’s a suspicion that a company co-operates closely with the intelligence services one should distance oneself.”
The ECB told the newspaper that it had a general suspicion of the security of digital infrastructure.
“We assume that there are no secure means of communication in the internet and thus send no confidential documents through the internet,” it said in a statement.
Sensitive documents are either not emailed at all or sent only in an encrypted form.
The federal government in Berlin ended its contract with Verizon Germany after revelations that it was required to hand over to the NSA, on an “ongoing, daily” basis, information about government telephone calls – but was barred from publicly disclosing the request because of a court order.
Berlin announced a reorganisation of its information and communication systems using German provider Deutsche Telekom to provide an “increased level of security”.
Verizon’s data transfers to the NSA was the first revelation last year from the data cache gathered by the former US contractor Snowden. Subsequent revelations included documents that the US had tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
That prompted a diplomatic spat between Berlin and Washington, with US officials promising not to spy on the German leader’s mobile calls in the future.
Merkel encryption cracked At the weekend, however, Bild tabloid claimed the NSA had already cracked the German leader's new encrypted mobile phone – a Blackberry device containing an extra encryption chip by German manufacturer Secusmart.
The German company insists its technology is secure from "all known forms" of hacking. But, after an unnamed NSA official told Bild "the technical changes to the mobile phone haven't hindered our work", a Secusmart spokesman conceded that "guarantees" are always difficult".
US intelligence spying on German communications is the focus of parliamentary hearings this week in Berlin.