* Row over U.S. surveillance refuses to die down in Germany
* Minister's fact-finding trip to U.S. much criticized
* Big questions remain over who knew what in Germany
BERLIN, July 16 German Chancellor Angela Merkel
faced pressure on Tuesday to toughen her stance against the
United States over its spy programme, after her interior
minister failed to convince lawmakers he had received answers
during a trip to Washington.
Hans-Peter Friedrich briefed a confidential parliamentary
committee in charge of intelligence issues about his talks in
the United States last week, saying these were just the start of
a long process of discussion and investigation.
But the spying, and questions over how much Berlin and its
own security agencies knew about it, has touched a raw nerve in
Germany, where it has become an election issue, as the
opposition, lagging badly in the polls, tries to thwart Merkel's
campaign for re-election to a third term in office in September.
"The German foreign intelligence agency (BND) and the
government continue to dispute they had any knowledge of the
PRISM programme. I personally consider this to be highly
unlikely, given the close cooperation between the U.S. and
German intelligence agencies," said opposition Social Democrat
(SPD) lawmaker Thomas Oppermann, who chairs the committee.
"The chancellor has to put more pressure on (Washington) now
for an explanation - we need hard facts," he said after the
Last month, the United States confirmed the existence of an
electronic spying operation codenamed PRISM after ex-spy agency
contractor Edward Snowden revealed that it mines data from
European and other users of Google, Facebook,
Skype and other U.S. companies.
In a separate leak, Washington was accused of eavesdropping
on EU and German offices and officials.
Merkel, whose tone has become sharper in recent days, said
during a speech in Cologne: "I want to say to our American
partners: German law always applies on German soil and we will
Germany's Bild newspaper reported on Monday that the BND had
known about U.S. surveillance and storage of German data for
years and used it in cases of Germans kidnapped abroad.
Merkel, who has said she first learned about the U.S.
surveillance programme from the media, has pledged to seek
tougher European Union data protection rules.
A poll last week by the Forsa opinion research institute
showed 4 out of 5 Germans did not believe the government when it
said it knew nothing of NSA spying.
Friedrich told German television earlier on Tuesday that
nobody knew what PRISM was and on what scale the United States
was storing information - opening himself to criticism he had
been fobbed off by the Americans.
Wolfgang Neskovic, an independent lawmaker and intelligence
expect called Friedrich's trip a "pure public relations
gesture", but added the opposition's criticism was hypocritical
- saying they had behaved exactly the same during their most
recent spell in government.