News Overview 2014

Liberty versus Security?

The transatlantic relationship has been on thin ice since Edward Snowden revealed information about the NSA’s activities. How can partners achieve the proper balance between freedom and security? This was the subject of the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s panel discussion aptly entitled "Liberty Versus Security? The Future of Common Values in Transatlantic Relations" on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Bosch Fellows program.

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008 Germans were ecstatic, remembered Dr. Ingrid Hamm, chief executive officer of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, in her speech at the 30th anniversary celebration of the "Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program" in Berlin. At the same time, she also pointed out differences of opinion and a general loss of trust, which reached its peak with the NSA scandal. "If a relationship has issues, you need to rebuild the trust," she said, and added, speaking in the direction of the 19 current as well as countless former scholarship recipients in the audience, "You live that trust through your personal exchange of opinions and ideas."

"German-American relations are generally in good order and are on solid footing," declared Dr. Thomas Bagger, head of the Federal Foreign Office’s Planning Department, in his greeting. The increasing digitalization of the world offers many opportunities, but also presents many challenges. In this context, the following questions are key: What data are countries, governments, and security services - as well as companies - categorically allowed to collect from citizens and use? What rules and boundaries do they need to adhere to? How can we achieve the proper balance between freedom and security? Thomas Bagger called for the transatlantic partners to hold more public debates on such fundamental questions. The basis is formed by mutual values, such as those also represented by the Robert Bosch Stiftung with its fellowship program.

Steven Erlanger, head of the New York Times’ London office and the discussion’s moderator, said: "The rule of law, the presumption of innocence, freedom of the press - Europeans and Americans share more fundamental values than many other nations of the world." Nevertheless, there are many different views when it comes to citizen’s privacy, which can be explained through different experiences: "Anyone from a country that was forced to experience serious acts of terror, like the United States, England, or Israel, views individual privacy and government surveillance differently than a German citizen, who is more reminded of the Nazi era and the Stasi."

In contrast, "the constitutions both on this side and the other side of the Atlantic do not view freedom and security as opposites," explained Russell Miller, professor of law at Washington and Lee University - and himself an alumnus of the 1999/2000 year of the Fellowship Program. The goal is to achieve as much freedom and security as possible. To do so, both the German Basic Law and the American constitution explicitly allow the restriction of personal freedoms. In the German-American discussions about data privacy and civil liberties, the key, however, is the term "proportionality."

"In light of an extreme threat scenario like that which the United States experienced after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the American and other intelligence agencies’ drive to collect as much data as possible was initially understandable," said Elmar Theveßen, ZDF’s acting editor in chief. The question that remains open is how to evaluate this from a legal standpoint. He criticized that in addition to the constitution and the various legislative bodies, an autonomous interpretation of the law - such as in the Bush Administration’s Justice Department - was able to develop which continues to have a massive effect on data privacy even today. "It has not been about fighting terror for a long time, it is about strategic and geopolitical guidance for the US government," said the journalist. The main problem is the lack of an effective control system.

Hans-Ulrich Klose reminded the audience of the negative effects this has on the transatlantic relationship. The former Mayor of the City of Hamburg and member of the Bundestag called tapping the cellular phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU institutions a "criminal act." "Such behavior is completely unacceptable between partners," said Klose, who spent the 1954/55 school year in the United States as an exchange student. Nevertheless, he is concerned about the critical comments about the US by leading German opinion-makers and intellectuals. He called on everyone to "take a step back and think." "The population of the Western nations is in the minority globally, so if we have mutual basic values, we should advocate for them together."

In the same vein, Yolanda McGill, copresident of the "Robert Bosch Alumni Association," addressed the current fellows personally and advised them that: "During your time in Germany, you will meet different people, follow many discussions, and sometimes hear controversial opinions. Use the opportunity to participate - you have something to say!"

(David Weyand, January 2014)


Photos: Christian Stollwerk


Dr. Thomas Bagger, head of the Federal Foreign Office’s Planning Department
Steven Erlanger, head of the New York Times’ London office
Russell Miller, professor of law at Washington and Lee University
Hans-Ulrich Klose
Yolanda McGill, copresident of the "Robert Bosch Alumni Association"

About the Program

The aim of the fellowship program for young American leaders is to develop a new generation of Americans with knowledge of Europe and especially Germany from personal and above all professional experience, who are committed to strengthening German-American relations.