October 15, 2015 / 1:23 PM / 4 years ago

Germany vows tougher control of spy agency after new revelations

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas gives a statement to the media at the Ministry of Justice in Berlin, Germany, August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s justice minister has called for tighter control of the national foreign intelligence agency, after media reported its spies had targeted the embassies of allied countries without the government’s express permission.

Heiko Maas told the Rheinische Post newspaper in an interview to be published on Friday that a fundamental reform of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) was needed.

“Parliament must get all the necessary means for an effective control of the intelligence services,” he added.

The media reports were the latest in a controversy over German intelligence that has erupted since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 a widespread U.S. surveillance program that included tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency is already under scrutiny after revelations earlier this year that its officials indirectly helped the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spy on European firms such as defense manufacturer Airbus.

The scandal has caused a political uproar in Germany, where privacy is an especially sensitive issue after the extensive surveillance by Communist East Germany’s Stasi secret police and by the Gestapo in the Nazi era.

The latest reports are seen as an embarrassment for Merkel, who repeatedly commented on Snowden’s revelations of widespread U.S. espionage in Germany with the sentence: “Spying on friends isn’t on at all.”

The German magazine Der Spiegel’s online edition and public broadcaster ARD reported that BND officials spied on embassies and other government buildings of allies such as France and the United States through so-called “selectors” such as names and internet addresses.

Some of these search terms were not on the chancellery’s commission list for the BND agency, suggesting its agents spied on allies without permission, the media reported, adding the government ordered the BND to stop this practice in autumn 2013.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Matthias Sobolewski; editing by Andrew Roche

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