RTI Judgement Series
RTI Judgement Series: CIC cannot abdicate its responsibilities to an expert body like RBI

An expert body or public authority like RBI cannot have a final say whether information should be provided to a citizen or not, ruled the CIC. This is 161st in a series of important judgements given by former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi that can be used or quoted in an RTI application

The Central Information Commission (CIC), while allowing an appeal, directed the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to provide complete information about inspection reports of co-operative banks. The CPIO had claimed exemption using Sections 8(1)(a) and (e) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and also cited decision of the full Bench of the Commission in RR Patel vs RBI (CIC/MA/A/2006/00406 and 00150 dated 7 December 2006) case.


While giving this judgement on 1 November 2011, Shailesh Gandhi, the then Central Information Commissioner said, “The Commission cannot abdicate its responsibilities under the RTI Act to RBI on the ground that the latter is an expert body. If the position of the Full Bench is to be accepted, it would lead to a situation where RBI would have the final say in whether information should be provided to a citizen or not. Extending this logic, all Public authorities could be the best judge of what information could be disclosed, since they are likely to be experts in matters connected with their working. The Commission cannot rely solely on the decision of the public authority and must look into the merits of the case itself. It must determine, on its own, whether the denial of information by the PIO was justified as per Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act.”


Baroda (Gujarat) resident Jayantilal N Mistry, on 19 October 2010, sought from the PIO information about inspection reports of co-operative banks, especially, on Makarpura Industrial Estate Co-Operative Bank Ltd. Here is the information he sought under the RTI Act and the reply given by the PIO...


1. Procedure, rules and regulations of inspection being carried out on co - operative banks.

PIO's Reply- RBI is conducting inspections under section 35 of the B. R. Act, 1949 (AACS) at prescribed intervals.


2. Last RBI investigation and audit report carried out by Mr. Santosh Kumar during 23/04/2010 to 06/05/2010 sent to Registrar of the co - operative of Gujarat, Gandhinagar on Makarpura Industrial Estate Co - Operative Bank Ltd. Reg No. 2808.  

PIO's Reply- Information sought is maintained by the bank in a fiduciary capacity and was obtained by RBI during the course of inspection of the bank and hence cannot be given to outsiders. Moreover, disclosure of such information may harm the interest of the bank and banking systems. Such information is also exempt from disclosure under Sections 8(1)(a) and (e) of the RTI Act.


3. Last 20 years inspection report carried out with the name of inspector on the above named bank and action taken report.   

PIO's Reply- Same as at 2. above.


4. Reports on all co-operative banks that have gone into liquidation and action taken against all directors and managers for recovery of public funds, powers utilized by RBI and analysis, and procedures adopted. 

PIO's Reply- (i) Same as at 2. above.

(ii) This information is not available with the department.


5. Names of remaining co - operative banks under your observations against irregularities and action taken reports. 

PIO's Reply- No specific information has been sought.


6. Period required to take actions and implementations. 

PIO's Reply- No specific information has been sought.


Not satisfied with the PIO's reply, Mistry filed his first appeal. In his order, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) made following observations...


(i) The RTI Act was enacted to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, but subject to the provisions of Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act only. In the present matter, the CPIO has provided all the available information to the Appellant.


(ii) Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act is not attracted in the present matter. The FAA agreed with the CPIO's response in relation to queries 2, 3 and first part of 4. Reliance was placed upon the Bench decision of the Commission in RR Patel vs RBI (CIC/MA/A/2006/00406 and 00150 dated 7 December 2006).


(iii) The FAA relied on the decision of the Commission in Rajiv Daiya vs UCO Bank CIC/PB/A/2008/00589 and 67/SM and observed that as regards the second part of query 4, where the CPIO has stated that the information is not available with the department, the question of furnishing the information does not arise.


(iv) Information sought in query 6 was too sweeping and general in nature, and therefore did not require any further consideration.


“Vide letter dated 21 April 2011, the CPIO provided certain clarifications to the appellant,” the FAA said in his order.


Not satisfied with the FAA's order, Mistry, the appellant, approached the CIC with his second appeal.


During the hearing Mr Gandhi, the then CIC, noted that the CPIO had relied on the Commission's Full Bench decision in RR Patel vs RBI (CIC/MA/A/2006/00406 and 00150 dated 7 December 2006) to justify the denial of information regarding query no2,3 and first part of 4.


In relation to query 5, the CPIO stated that there was no compiled list of all co-operative banks where irregularities had been found. However, the CPIO submitted that he would now be able to provide information for the previous year.


The CPIO also claimed that disclosing information on queries 2, 3 and the first part of 4 is exempted under Section 8 (1) (a) of the RTI Act since disclosure of irregularities could lead to loss of faith in some banks and this could affect the economic interests of the State. He contended that the full bench decision of the Commission in RR Patel vs RBI (CIC/MA/A/2006/00406 and 00150 dated 7 December 2006) had accepted this contention of RBI.


As regards query 6, Mr Gandhi said the Bench agrees with the PIO's observation.


The Bench reserved its decision till next hearing.


During the next hearing on 1 November 2011, the Bench noted that Based on perusal of papers and submissions of the parties, it appears that information as per records has already been provided in relation to query 1. Mr Gandhi said, "As regards queries 5 and 6, if there is any information available on record, the same must be provided to the appellant."


In relation to queries 2, 3 and first part of 4, information has been denied on the basis of Sections 8(1)(a) and (e) of the RTI Act. Support was also placed on the Commission's full Bench decision in RR Patel vs RBI (CIC/MA/A/2006/00406 and 00150 dated 7 December 2006), the CIC observed.


The PIO contended that information sought in queries 2, 3 and first part of 4 was exempt under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act.


Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act exempts from disclosure "information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information".


Mr Gandhi said, the Bench on several occasions, has held that information provided in discharge of a statutory requirement, or to obtain a job, or to get a license, cannot be considered to have been given in a fiduciary relationship.


He said, "In the present matter, information provided by banks or institutions subordinate to the RBI is done in fulfilment of statutory compliance. The inspection, audit and investigation are done by RBI officers as part of a statutory duty and banks have to undergo this in compliance with statutory requirements. Therefore, the Respondent's contention that the information sought was exempt under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act is rejected."


During the hearing, the PIO also claimed that the information sought in queries 2, 3 and first part of 4 was exempt under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. The PIO contended that if the information was disclosed, it could lead to a reduction of faith in banks, when people realized the shortfalls and could lead to a run on the banks. This could affect the economic interests of the State. The PIO was primarily depending on the decision of a full bench in RR Patel vs RBI (CIC/MA/A/2006/00406 and 00150 dated 7 December 2006).


Mr Gandhi said, "In RR Patel's Case, the Full Bench was considering the issue of disclosure of RBI's inspection report of a Cooperative Bank. One of the issues before the Bench was whether the inspection report was exempt from disclosure under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. The Full Bench relied on a decision of the Punjab & Haryana High Court in RBI vs Central Government Industrial Tribunal (dated 07/05/1958) which had observed that 'In an integrated economy like ours, the job of a regulating authority is quite complex and such an authority has to decide as to what would be the best course of action in the economic interest of the State. It is necessary that such an authority is allowed functional autonomy in decision making and as regards the process adopted for the purpose'."


Based on the above, the Full Bench, in paragraph 16, ruled inter alia that, "In view of this, and in light of the earlier discussion, we have no hesitation in holding that the RBI is entitled to claim exemption from disclosure u/s 8(1)(a) of the Act if it is satisfied that the disclosure of such report would adversely affect the economic interests of the State. The RBI is an expert body appointed to oversee this matter and we may therefore rely on its assessment. The issue is decided accordingly".


"It appears that the Full Bench was of the view that if RBI concluded that disclosure of inspection reports would adversely affect the economic interests of the State, the said information may be denied under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. There is no observation that the Full Bench had come to this conclusion by itself. Further, the observations of the Punjab & Haryana High Court in RBI vs Central Government Industrial Tribunal (dated 7 May 1958) relied on by the Full Bench were made much before the advent of the RTI Act and cannot therefore, be a guide for deciding on exemptions under the RTI Act," the Bench noted.


Furthermore, the RBI in RR Patel's case claimed that if inspection reports of banks were to be disclosed it would affect the economic interests of the state. The Full Bench decision appears to rely on the submissions of the Deputy Governor of RBI provided vide letter dated 21 November 2006 and were as follows:


"(i) Among the various responsibilities vested with RBI as the country's Central Bank, one of the major responsibilities relate to maintenance of financial stability. While disclosure of information generally would reinforce public trust in institutions, the disclosure of certain information can adversely affect the public interest and compromise financial sector stability.

(ii) The inspection carried out by RBI often brings out weaknesses in the financial institutions, systems and management of the inspected entities. Therefore, disclosure can erode public confidence not only in the inspected entity but in the banking sector as well. This could trigger a ripple effect on the deposits of not only one bank to which the information pertains but others as well due to contagion effect.

(iii) While the RBI had been conceding request for information on actions taken by it on complaints made by members of the public against the functioning of the banks and financial institutions and that they do not have any objection in giving information in respect of such action taken or in giving the substantive information pertaining to such complaints provided such information is innocuous in nature and not likely to adversely impact the system.

(iv) However, disclosure of inspection reports as ordered by the Commission in their decision dated September 6, 2006 would not be in the economic interest of the country and such disclosures would have adverse impact on the financial stability.

(v) It would not be possible to apply section 10(1) of the Act in respect of the Act in respect of the inspection report as portion of such reports when read out of context result in conveying even more misleading messages."


Mr Gandhi noted that the RBI argued that that it did not wish to share the information sought as some of it could "adversely affect the public interest and compromise financial sector stability". RBI was unwilling to share information, which might bring out the 'weaknesses in the financial institutions, systems and management of the inspected entities'. It was further contended that 'disclosure can erode public confidence not only in the inspected entity but in the banking sector as well. This could trigger a ripple effect on the deposits of not only one bank to which the information pertains but others as well due to contagion effect'.


He said, "It appears that the RBI argued that citizens were not mature enough to understand the implications of weaknesses, and RBI was the best judge to decide what citizens should know. Citizens must be given selective information about weaknesses exposed in inspection, to ensure that they have faith in the banking sector. They must see the financial and banking sector only to the extent, which RBI wishes. If the RBI made mistakes, or there was corruption, citizens would suffer. This appears to go against the basic tenets of democracy and transparency."


The CIC cited a clarion call in State of Uttar Pradesh vs Raj Narain (1975) 4 SCC 428, by Justice Mathew that stated...


"In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can at any rate have no repercussion on public security".


Mr Gandhi said, "The idea that citizens are not mature enough to understand and will panic is repugnant to democracy. The exemptions under Section 8 and 9 of the RTI Act are the constraints put by Parliament and adjudicating bodies have to carefully consider whether the exemptions apply before denying any information under the RTI framework."


"It is pertinent to mention that in RR Patel's case, the Full Bench did not come to any specific conclusion that disclosure of inspection reports would prejudicially affect the economic interests of the State. Instead it left it to RBI to determine whether disclosure of the said information would attract Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. This was primarily on the basis that RBI is an expert body and that any decision taken by it should be relied upon by the Commission. No legal reasoning whatsoever was given by the Bench for concluding the above. There is no evidence or indication that the Commission after taking cognizance of RBI's views had come to the same conclusion."


"If the position of the Full Bench is to be accepted, it would lead to a situation where RBI would have the final say in whether information should be provided to a citizen or not. Extending this logic, all public authorities could be the best judge of what information could be disclosed, since they are likely to be experts in matters connected with their working. In such an event the Information Commission would have no role to play. Parliament evidently expected that the Information Commission would independently decide whether the exemptions are applicable. The Full Bench did not give any independent finding that the disclosure of information would affect the economic interests of the State in its decision. This would completely negate the fundamental right to information guaranteed to the citizens under the RTI Act. In the case being considered by the full bench, it decided to accept the judgment of RBI. It is open to a Commission to defer to a judgment of another body, but this does not establish any principle of law, and would apply only to the specific matter," Mr Gandhi said.


The Bench said, "It is apparent from the scheme of the RTI Act that the Commission is a quasi- judicial body which is responsible for deciding appeals and complaints arising under the RTI Act. While deciding such cases, the Commission would necessarily have to consider whether there were any cogent reasons for denial of information under Sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act. Since the Full Bench has not recorded any comment which shows that it consciously agreed that Section 8 (1)(a) of the RTI Act was applicable in such matters, it does not establish any legal principle or interpretation which can be considered as a precedent or ratio. Thus the decision is applicable only to the particular matter before it, and does not become a binding precedent."


Mr Gandhi said, the powers of the Commission are limited under the RTI Act and certainly do not confer upon it the power of review. "It is clear from the Full Bench ruling in RR Patel's case that it was reviewing the two decisions of Professor MM Ansari, then Information Commissioner on merits. The Full Bench certainly did not have the power to do so, given the provisions of the RTI Act and the law laid down by the Supreme Court in this regard. In fact, the Supreme Court in the Kapra Mazdoor Ekta Union Case clearly considered and clarified the ruling in the Grindlays' Bank Case (relied upon by the Full Bench). It appears that the Full Bench reviewed the issues based on merits in RR Patel's case in ignorance of the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Kapra Mazdoor Ekta Union Case. In other words, the RR Patel Case is per incuriam and is consequently, not binding on this Bench," he added.


"Having laid down the above, this Bench examines the contention of the PIO in the present matter that the information is protected by the exemption under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. Since I do not chose to defer to the RBI's judgment in this matter, I will evaluate whether the PIO's contention of exemption under Section 8 (1) (a) is tenable," Mr Gandhi said.


Section 8 (1) (a) exempts  "information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence".


The PIO and the FAA claimed that revealing the investigation and audit report of Makarpura Industrial Estate Co-operative Bank Ltd in 2010 and the last twenty years would 'prejudicially affect the economic interests of the state'. "This Bench is unable to understand how disclosing the investigation and audit report of Makarpura Industrial Estate Co-operative Bank Ltd Reg No2808 would in any miniscule way affect the economic interests of the Indian Nation. Hence there is no ground for refusing information with regard to query 2 and 3. Further, reports on all cooperative banks, which have gone in liquidation sought in query 4, are also completely unlikely to affect the economic climate or interests of the country. Declaring the audit, inspection and investigation reports of all co-operative banks, which have gone into liquidation cannot do any further harm to such banks. If the banks have gone into liquidation, what more damage can come on them? The PIO perhaps rates the economic state of this nation as being extremely fragile to make such a claim. I therefore, cannot leave such a decision to the wisdom of RBI," Mr Gandhi said.


The CIC then referred to the conclusion and recommendation of the full Bench in paragraph 21, which stated....


"Before parting with this appeal, we would like to record our observations that in a rapidly unfolding economics scenario, there are public institutions, both in the banking and non-banking sector, whose activities have not served public interest. On the contrary, some such institutions may have attempted to defraud the public of their moneys kept with such institutions in trust. RBI being the Central Bank is one of the instrumentalities available to the public which as a regulator can inspect such institutions and initiate remedial measures where necessary. It is important that the general public particularly the shareholders and the depositors of such institutions are kept aware of RBI's appraisal of the functioning of such institutions and taken into confidence about the remedial actions initiated in specific cases. This will serve the public interest. The RBI would therefore be well advised to be proactive in disclosing information to the public in general and the information seekers under the Right to Information Act, in particular. The provisions of Section 10(1) of the RTI Act can therefore be judiciously used when necessary to adhere to this objective".


Mr Gandhi said, "The full Bench, clearly stated that a larger public interest was likely to be served by disclosure of the said information. It suggested that RBI should disclose most of this information in a proactive manner. The Full Bench of the Commission had effectively given a recommendation to RBI to disclose this information under Section 4 of the RTI Act.  I agree with the conclusion arrived at by the bench that the disclosure of the appraisal of financial institutions by RBI and remedial measures must be shared with public in a proactive manner."


Section 8 (2) of the RTI Act states, "Notwithstanding anything in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 nor any of the exemptions permissible in accordance with sub-section (1), a public authority may allow access to information, if public interests in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests".


While allowing the appeal, Mr Gandhi said, "Merely because disclosure of such information may adversely affect public confidence in defaulting institutions, cannot be a reason for denial of information under the RTI Act. There must be transparency as regards such organisations so that citizens can make an informed choice about them. In view of the same, this Bench is of the considered opinion that even if the information sought was exempted under Section 8(1)(a) or (e) of the RTI Act, as claimed by the PIO, Section 8(2) of the RTI Act would mandate disclosure of the information."


He then directed the PIO to provide the information as per records to Mistry in relation to queries 2 to 6 before 30 November 2011.




Decision No. CIC/SM/A/2011/001487/SG/15434


Appeal No. CIC/SM/A/2011/001487/SG


Appellant                                        : Jayantilal N Mistry,

                                                                Baroda, Gujarat


Respondent                                   : CPIO & Chief General Manager,


                                                            Urban Banks Department,

                                                            Central Office,

                                                            1st Floor, Garment House, Worli,

                                                            Mumbai - 400018


Shankarlal Guru resigns as NSEL board chairman

Guru has alleged that few 'bad people' have entered the Exchange and they should be punished

Shankarlal Guru, has stepped down as non-executive chairman of National Spot Exchange (NSEL), saying that some 'bad people' have entered the crisis-ridden Exchange and were responsible for its woes. He, however, refused to name the persons or elaborate on 'bad people' entering NSEL.


Guru’s resignation comes on the heels of at least two directors on the five-member board of NSEL quitting as the exchange struggled to clear Rs5,600 crore payment dues.


Ramanathan Devarajan and BD Pawar, both non-executive directors, have quit, leaving just Jignesh Shah, who owns FTIL, the single largest promoter of NSEL, and Joseph Massey on the board.


“I resigned from the board of directors of NSEL on 7th August as I and (NSEL director) BD Pawar felt that our mission of promoting agriculture marketing is not being followed and there has been such a big scam in the exchange, which is not the right thing. I have nothing to do with this issue,” Guru was quoted in a PTI report.


“The Government has the machinery and it should take the money and return the hard earned money of the investors. There are some bad people in the exchange who should be punished,” he said.


Why NSA snooping is bigger deal in Germany

In Germany, furore over the NSA revelations is much bigger than in the US. Why do Germans fear Big Brother so much?

Germans like posting baby pictures, party snapshots and witty comments on Facebook just like anyone else. They just do not want to get caught doing it. Many of us use fake names for their profiles – silly puns, movie characters or anagrams and “remixes” of their real names. (Yes, I have one. No I’m not telling you the name.)

We like our privacy (even if fake names might not be the most professional form of encryption). Which is why the revelations about NSA spying have led to a bigger debate in Germany than in the US. It has become the hottest issue during what was poised to become a dull election campaign.

Now there is a James-Bond vibe to pre-election season: Newspapers publish extensive guides on how to encrypt emails. People question whether they should still use U.S.-based social networks. The German government seems to be under more pressure over the revelations than the American one.

What makes Germans so sensitive about their data? Many have pointed to Germany’s history: Both the Nazi secret police Gestapo and the East German Stasi spied extensively on citizens, encouraging snitching among neighbors and acquiring private communication.

But that’s not the whole story. Politics and the media in Germany today are dominated by (male) citizens raised in the democratic West who have no personal recollection of either of the Stasi or Gestapo.

Germany lacks the long tradition of strong individual freedoms the state has guaranteed in the U.S. for more than 200 years. Precisely because of that, these values, imported from the Western allies after 1945, are not taken for granted.

Indeed, there have been battles about privacy – and against a perceived “surveillance state” – in Germany for decades.

While the student rebellion of the late Sixties was partly driven by anger over the Vietnam war, it was also fueled by the parliament considering emergency laws that would have limited personal freedoms. And in the seventies, as left-wing terrorist groups were attacking the state ruthlessly, government answered with then-new “dragnet tracing”, identifying suspects by matching personal traits through extensive computer-based searches in databases.

Many considered this to be unfair profiling. In 1987, authorities wanted to ask Germans about their life – but the census faced protests and a widespread boycott because people saw the collection of data as an infringement of their rights. Citizens transformed into transparent “glass humans” (“glaserner Mensch”) were a horror scenario in the late and nineties in Germany summoned up on magazine covers and in T.V. shows.

Then, there is also the disappointment of the buddy who realizes he is not, as he thought, one of the strongest guys’ best friend.

The oft-celebrated partnership with the U.S. served as a pillar of Germanys’ comeback in international politics after the war and the Holocaust. Now it turns out Germany is not only ally, but also target. According to documents Edward Snowden disclosed, 500 million pieces of phone and email metadata from Germany are collected each month by the NSA – more than in any other EU country.

The outrage at the U.S.’s snooping has continued despite a follow-on revelation that it was actually the German secret service, the BND, that handed over the data to the NSA. (The BND said that no communication by German citizens was collected.)

The German debate also has to be understood as being fueled by a widespread but low-level Anti-Americanism, an ugly staple of the German left as well as the right. The short-lived love for Obama (200,000 people celebrated him during his Berlin speech in 2008) was an exception to the widespread perception of American hubris and imperialism. Germans have managed to live with the cognitive dissonance of protesting U.S. interventions while embracing Californian culture, rap music and even Tom Cruise.

Jakob Augstein, columnist for the countries’ biggest news site Spiegel Online, considers Prism an addition to the body of evidence that already includes Abu Ghraib and the drone war: The U.S., Augstein writes, is becoming a country of “soft totalitarianism”. The only thing not to be disputable about this statement is the Germans’ expertise when it comes to totalitarianism.

While the U.S. has few laws concerning data privacy, Germany has something unknown to Americans: 17 state data protection supervisors (one national and one for each state), who watch over the compliance of authorities and companies with data privacy laws. Since the German state Hesse introduced the first of these laws in 1970, strict oversight like this has become common in Europe.

Some of the German data supervisors have been regular talking heads in the media for years, bashing U.S. companies like Facebook for their alleged violations of privacy of their customers. When Google photographed German streets for its Street View service, they were pushing the company to give citizens the possibility of opting out. That is why today, tens of thousands of buildings in Germany are blurred on Street View.

Now the data protection supervisors have an even bigger target: the National Security Agency. After the Snowden revelations, they have discontinued giving out new licenses to companies under the so-called Safe Harbor principles, which are meant to guarantee that personal data is only transferred to countries with sufficient data protection, for example when Germans use American companies’ cloud storage space. After the revelations about the Prism program, the supervisors consider user data in the hands of U.S. companies not safe anymore.

Opposition parties have picked the “NSA scandal” – as German media call it – as the big (and, since Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading all polls, only) chance for the opposition to turn around the election. Merkel has been accused of having known more about the extent of the spying before the story broke than she admitted. Since German services are coordinated from the Chancellery, her opponents don’t believe her that she did not know about the American spy efforts.

Yet it is unlikely that the revelations will seriously influence the outcome of the election. This is not only because Merkel has an economy surprisingly immune to the European crisis. It is also because the biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats, has been tainted by its proximity to power. While smaller left-wing parties such as the former communists or the Greens make bold statements, including offering Snowden asylum, Social Democrats have a hard time doing so. One of their heads, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, used to be coordinator for Merkels predecessor Gerhard Schröder. In that position, Steinmeier was responsible for the services and intensified U.S.-German intelligence cooperation in the years after 9/11. He later became Secretary of State under Merkel. Even though that was before Prism started, socialists and conservatives bash him in rare unanimity “as if he’d personally founded the NSA and tapped transatlantic internet cables”, as my colleague Michael König put it for Sueddeutsche.de.

The government’s response to concerns about the spying reads like it was written in the Pentagon: The U.S. said it was only spying on individuals suspected of organized crime or terrorism. And the NSA said it was acting according to U.S. and German law. There is no blanket surveillance of European citizens.

But Germans don’t trust Merkel. A poll found two-thirds of questioned people voicing discontent with her dealing with the affair. Germans hoped for a more forceful reaction, like that from Brazil, another democratic country targeted by the NSA: Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota publicly found strong words standing next to Secretary of State John Kerry last week: "In case these challenges are not solved in a satisfactory way, we run the risk of casting a shadow of distrust on our work.”

In Germany, the government sounds more apologetic than angry.

The U.S. is at least throwing Germany a bone. According to the government in Berlin, the NSA has offered a treaty: No more spying on each other. Georg Mascolo, former editor-in-chief of news Magazine Der Spiegel and now writing for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, considers this an “historical chance for Angela Merkel”: A treaty, if formulated without loopholes for American spying, would give new value to the German-American alliance.

In any case, we’ll keep on making up fake names on Facebook. Just in case spies are going to keep on doing what spies are supposed to do.

Jannis Brühl is an Arthur F. Burns Fellow at ProPublica. In Germany, he works mostly for Süddeutsche.de in Munich, the online edition of the national daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.


Courtesy: ProPublica.org


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