Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) reportedly spied on journalists across the globe, including those with the BBC, Reuters and New York Times. The spy agency reportedly spied on nearly 50 phone and fax numbers, as well as email addresses of journalists and editors around the world since 1999, according to documents related to the German parliament's commission investigation into Germany's role in the NSA's surveillance.
According to the documents, the BND's list of surveillance targets reportedly included over a dozen connections of the BBC in Afghanistan, as well as the BBC headquarters in London and the editors of the BBC World Service. Phone numbers of Reuters journalists and offices in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria were also monitored, along with the phone number of a contact of the New York Times in Afghanistan, Der Speigel reported.
In Germany, journalists are reportedly provided special protection against state interference and treated as "professional" secret keepers, not unlike doctors or lawyers. For instance, journalists have the right to refuse to provide testimony, to protect their sources.
Consequently, reports of BND spying on journalists have sparked outrage among many in the field. Reporters Without Borders (ROG) deemed the monitoring of journalists as a "monstrous attack on the freedom of press" and a "new dimension of the constitutional break." The organisation now fears that the BND will continue to monitor and intercept journalists' communications. ROG is reportedly preparing to file a constitutional complaint against a spy law adopted by Germany in 2016.
Meanwhile, BBC has voiced its "dismay" over the alleged German spying of its journalists. "We are disappointed to hear these claims," a BBC spokesperson said. "The BBC's mission is to bring accurate news and information to people around the world, and our journalists should be able to operate freely and safely, with full protection for their sources. We call upon all governments to respect the operation of a free press."
The BND is yet to comment on the matter.
In 2013, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the global reach of the US' surveillance, which he claimed was assisted by the BND and the UK spy agency GCHQ.
On 16 February, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was reportedly one of the targets of the NSA, became the latest to testify before the German parliament commission, in the three-year probe into the matter.