The exposure of an intelligence-sharing agreement between the US National Security Agency (NSA) and German spy agency the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) shows that German spooks traded domestic data in exchange for the use of the XKeyscore spying programme.
Documents analysed by German publication Die Zeit revealed a secret deal set up with the NSA that allowed the use of XKeyscore to rapidly analyse the huge amounts of metadata collected by the German agency on the condition that no data on US citizens was kept.
The BfV, unlike the Bundesnachrichtendienst foreign intelligence agency, does not carry out so-called dragnet surveillance, instead having to go through parliament to get permission to collect metadata on individual citizens.
Metadata does not contain the content of communications, for example the recording of a phone call or the text in an SMS message, but includes the time, date and location of the content. This data is then collated to create a web of contacts and the communication patterns of a target.
The BfV's use of XKeyscore gives the agency the ability to sift through huge amounts of metadata, but it does not have access to the full programme that allows the NSA to collect information directly from the internet.
Die Zeit also reported that the deal was conducted without the knowledge of German officials.
"Neither Germany's data protection commissioner nor the Parliamentary Control Panel, which is responsible for oversight of the BfV, has been fully informed about the deal," the article stated.
"Nobody outside the BfV oversees what data is sent to the NSA in accordance with the 'Terms of Reference', a situation that remains unchanged today."
Instead, key government officials, including the data protection commissioner, became aware of the use of XKeyscore only after specifically asking the intelligence agency in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013.
The 2012 intelligence-sharing deal, in a document partially marked ‘for official use only', stated that "the BfV will to the maximum extent possible share all data relevant to NSA's mission".
De Zeit said that it is publishing the document "because it proves exactly what German intelligence agencies give to the NSA in exchange for technical support".
"We are also documenting this agreement because it presumably serves as an example for other such agreements that have not yet come to light - agreements forged between agencies without providing detailed information to the Parliamentary Control Panel, thus forestalling the possibility of a debate in the political or public sphere," the paper added.
XKeyscore was revealed by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 and is used to collect data through the internet including emails, messages and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.
A leaked NSA document from 2008 showed that XKeyscore helped to catch 300 terrorists and, at the time, was collecting data from 700 servers in 150 locations around the world.
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