Angela Merkel demands answers from Barack Obama as Germany says US may have tapped her phone

That a German chancellor should even make such an inquiry of an American president is remarkable and serves to illustrate how far trust has broken down between the two nations

Berlin, New York, Brussels

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called US President Barack Obama to demand an explanation after secret service reports appeared to show that US intelligence agencies had tapped her mobile phone for years.

“The Chancellor made it clear that should the indications prove true, she unequivocally disapproves and considers them totally unacceptable,” Ms Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters. “This would be a serious breach of trust. Such practices must be halted immediately,” he added.

Confirming that the highly unusual call had taken place, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said that Mr Obama had reassured Ms Merkel she is under no such surveillance.

“The United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor”, he said. Mr Carney did not say whether monitoring of Ms Merkel's phone might have occurred in the past.

That a German chancellor should even make such an inquiry of an American president is remarkable and serves to illustrate how far trust has broken down between the US and even its allies on how far Washington has gone in breaking the norms of privacy to keep tabs not just on its foes but its friends too.

The European Parliament today voted to suspend a data sharing agreement with the United States aimed at detecting terrorist fund-raising, the latest salvo as the EU scrambles to find an appropriate response to the hacking allegations against America's National Security Agency (NSA).

The resolution would need the backing of member states to take effect, but it highlights grave concerns in Brussels over claims that the US security agency tapped communications both of European Union institutions and member states including France and Belgium.

The issue is likely to be discussed when EU heads of state gather on Thursday for a summit, with France the latest country reeling from claims in Le Monde that the NSA could have spied on more than 70 million phone records, text messages and private conversations.

Der Spiegel magazine's website disclosed that it had made enquiries with Germany's intelligence services which had raised the possibility that Ms Merkel's phone had been subjected to surveillance by the NSA.

The magazine said the German government considered the reports “sufficiently plausible” to warrant an immediate phone call from the Chancellor to President Obama in person.

Mr Seibert said Ms Merkel had made it clear to Mr Obama that she expected an explanation for the “entire scope” of NSA phone surveillance in Germany, which would provide answers to questions Berlin put to the US administration several months ago.

“As a close ally of the United States of America, the German government expects for the future, a clear basis which defines the activities of the intelligence services,” Mr Seibert added.

In June this year information supplied by Edward Snowden, the whistle blower and former contractor who worked with the NSA now in hiding in Russia, claimed NSA's German phone and internet surveillance operation was the biggest in the European Union. On 7 January, it was reported to have tapped into some 60 million German phone calls in a single day.

The reports prompted the German government to demand a full explanation from the United States  which Berlin insists it is still waiting for.

Mexico this week lodged a complaint that the emails of its former president, Felipe Calderon, had been hacked by the Agency. The leader of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, cancelled a state visit to the US in protest at the snooping allegations.

In most instances, the US has not been able to give a straight answer to the complaints, beyond making the case that every nation has extensive espionage operations in the interests of protecting national security. 

It wasn't clear whether Mr Obama was blindsided by Ms Merkel's call.

Answering questions during an overseas trip earlier in the summer about allegations of US spying on the European Union's offices in Washington, Mr Obama was forced to rehearse the business-as-usual argument. 

“Every intelligence service - not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there's an intelligence service - here's one thing that they're going to be doing: They're going to be trying to understand the world better, and what's going on in world capitals around the world,” he said during a visit to Africa. “If that weren't the case, then there'd be no use for an intelligence service.”

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