Almost every day, new information is released about how American and British intelligence agencies have monitored governments, embassies and the communications of whole societies. These revelations have provided us with a deep and terrifying insight into the uncontrolled power of intelligence agencies.
They show that data collection is no longer about targeted acquisition of information to avert threats, and it’s certainly not about the dangers of “international Islamist terrorism.” After all, which terrorist is going to call or text Chancellor Angela Merkel?
All of our current knowledge about this surveillance is thanks to one man, Edward J. Snowden. Without him, Ms. Merkel would still be a target for monitoring, and surveillance of German diplomats, businessmen and ordinary citizens would be continuing, undetected.
Without Mr. Snowden, there wouldn’t have been months of discussions in the German Bundestag, the European Parliament and the American Congress about better protection of citizens’ private and commercial communications. Mr. Snowden is paying a high price for having opened the eyes of the world. He can no longer lead a normal life.
He acted in an emergency situation to stop and prevent terrible things. According to both German and American law, the government can grant immunity when criminal laws are violated in order to defend the paramount right to freedom. Publicly announcing a crime should not be a crime. The United States has long had laws to protect whistle-blowers from punishment — and we Germans aspire to have such laws.
According to recent surveys by ARD, a German TV station, 60 percent of Germans see Mr. Snowden as a hero and only 14 percent as a criminal. They know his courageous revelations were intended to protect freedom and the values that we share with America.
One of us met Mr. Snowden two weeks ago in Moscow. He said that he revealed these secrets to defend fundamental American values of freedom and democracy. He wanted to put an end to the nearly unlimited surveillance of the population and to the National Security Agency’s crimes in the United States and across the world. He is willing to testify before the German parliament (though he would prefer to do so on Capitol Hill). Mr. Snowden is an American patriot, not an anti-American.
We Germans owe Mr. Snowden thanks and appreciation — and a safe and permanent residence in Germany.
There would be no obligation to extradite him, since the extradition treaty between the United States and Germany clearly forbids extradition if a person is being prosecuted for a political crime like espionage or treason, as is obvious in Mr. Snowden’s case.
There’s no doubt that the German-American relationship is sorely strained; according to a recent survey, only 35 percent of Germans still see the United States as a trustworthy partner. And it is clear that a decision to grant Mr. Snowden asylum in Germany would strain our relationship even more.
Granting him asylum wouldn’t be about revenge or retaliation for spying on us. It would be a decision based on our fundamental values — and a moral duty. How else can we recover the public’s trust? The only way is to stand up, defend our shared values and set an example for other countries in the world.
Mr. Snowden’s revelations are not to blame for our strained relationship with America; what’s to blame is illegal spying that affects every single person, all the way up to the chancellor. We see this comprehensive surveillance as the beginning of a meltdown of civil rights and liberties and the rule of law.
And the German government has failed to protect its population. For months, it has only reacted submissively and feebly to the United States. Last summer, it blindly trusted the reassuring words of N.S.A. officials and American lawmakers who claimed, falsely, that both American and German law and justice were being respected.
Germany didn’t even forcefully insist on an investigation. In fact, government ministers had declared the scandal settled, until the revelations that the chancellor’s telephone had been tapped caught up with them.
Even today, the German government still refuses to invite Mr. Snowden to Germany and hear him testify about the N.S.A. scandal — let alone offer him asylum and guarantee his safety.
It’s embarrassing that democratic European countries, where the rule of law should reign supreme, have until now shied away from confrontation with the United States and have preferred to place Mr. Snowden’s fate and security in Russia’s hands. Surrendering their sovereign rights, last summer they blocked the airspace over Western Europe at America’s request when there was a rumor that Mr. Snowden was flying from Moscow to South America.
It’s a hopeful sign that the surveillance frenzy of the American intelligence agencies is being reviewed and that their activities are likely to be better supervised and limited in the future. This also has to apply to foreign countries, especially America’s allies.
The planned discussions between German and American legislators are welcome and necessary, both to exchange information and talk about much-needed reforms. We have to mend our relationship, reduce the reach of intelligence agencies and bring their work under the rule of law in order to protect the right to privacy and free, unmonitored communication that both Germans and American hold dear.
But we still owe a basic debt to Mr. Snowden. We demand an immediate change in the government’s policy. Edward Snowden should be given a safe residence in Germany or in another democratic European country and be allowed to stay permanently if he wants to.
Malte Spitz is a Green Party politician and a privacy activist. Hans-Christian Ströbele is a Green Party member of the Bundestag and serves on the intelligence committee. This article was translated by Geoffrey S. Koby from the German.