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Germany's BITKOM Reacts to Echelon

[Berlin, GERMANY] A short time ago, British journalist Duncan Campbell spoke before the German Parliament at a non-official meeting about the U.S. Echelon-spy system. Campbell emphasized the dangers resulting from Echelon, where 120 satellite-interception systems scans billions of e-mails, telephone conversations and faxes.

de.internet.com spoke with Dr. Bernd Rohleder, General Manager of the Federal Association of Information Economy, Telecommunication and new Media (BITKOM), concerning the subject of Echelon.

de.internet.com: What does BITKOM say about the resulting disadvantages to competition for the German economy caused by Echelon?

Rohleder: I can only answer the question of economic espionage generally. Of course we find it disturbing. As you know, there are also European countries which do not particularly restrain themselves. To this extent it is a general problem by which the German economy is particularly affected. The German economy is well known for the high technical performance which it provides. In marketing it is less strong and therefore naturally an ideal target for economic espionage. Time to Market is comparatively long in Germany. For this reason, we are a very attractive object for these foreign intelligence services.

de.internet.com: Can the German companies protect themselves against this interception by Echelon?

Rohleder: It is quite possible to protect themselves but these possibilities are not standardized. The technologies such as steganography exist. The famous example with the image file of the Mona Lisa, in whose eyebrows an encrypted message is hidden can also not be detected by the U.S. American Intelligence Service. With all these mechanisms however, it is not possible after all to reach all those who want to protect themselves from access, since there is no standardized e-mail steganography program.

de.internet.com: To what extent is PGP encryption used by the German economy together with steganography for confidential information?

Rohleder: Unfortunately that is hardly ever used for the simple reason that the mechanisms have not been standardized. They fall back on many traditional technologies such as messengers or the envelope or the discussion is held face to face. However, even regarding this the Germany economy has not protected itself until now. They do not find rooms in companies and in government buildings which really offer security against bugging. In the meantime, it is possible to decipher letters on the computer being emitted from the screen from far distances. The sensitiveness regarding threats of this kind is not sufficiently developed in Germany.

de.internet.com: All American companies which sell encryption products have to be in contact with the secret service, otherwise they are not permitted to be active on the market. Can such products actually be used by foreign companies for security or don't they have to develop their own software and hardware, in order to check what is going on through open source code?

Rohleder: The German providers of security technology are leading worldwide, also because there are strong export restrictions in the U.S. Therefore, we do not need technology of American origin. Nevertheless, it depends mostly on the 'embedded security', the security features integrated into standard applications and these are, of course, primarily of U.S. American origin. What we still have to do is to combine U.S. American products, standard application software with security technologies made in Germany.

de.internet.com: Do German conglomerates tolerate the foreign secret service in Germany because they participate in the output or are they powerless?

Rohleder: They are not powerless, they can protect themselves but this kind of securityi