German firms poach email business after NSA snoop scandal

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MUNICH - German email companies are trying to turn a profit off America’s NSA spying scandal by stealing away business from the likes of American rivals Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

Email users in Germany concerned about the privacy of their messages are turning to German email providers that have taken advantage of the opportunity to tout themselves as being more secure than their U.S. competitors.

While this marketing strategy is unlikely to lure many email users from across the Atlantic, it is increasingly popular with Germans who had been using sites like Gmail and Hotmail before revelations surfaced that the National Security Agency may be reading their emails with the blessing of these companies.

“The moment that the data is in the U.S., it will definitely be used by the NSA, and subsequently by other government agencies including the CIA, FBI and the DEA,” Thilo Weichert, head of the Independent Center for Data Protection, told a German news agency. “If I use Google Mail, it’s pretty certain that my data will be saved on American servers, and can then be accessed by the NSA.”

The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that several German-based email service providers in Germany have noticed an increase in traffic in recent weeks.

T-Online, the largest Internet service provider in Germany, which is owned by Deutsche Telekom, the same company that owns U.S. provider T-Mobile, told Der Spiegel that there has been a “stronger interest” in its email service since the NSA scandal broke.

Seeing an opportunity to attract new customers, Deutsche Telekom launched a new service known as “Email Made in Germany” earlier this month. It encrypts emails and keeps them on local servers, a more secure process than transferring emails through international servers.

Freenet has enjoyed an 80 percent increase in membership over the last three weeks, Der Spiegel reported, largely because the email provider is known for strong anonymity protection.

During the same period, 1&1, a German Web hosting company, has seen more than 100,000 new users sign up for its email services, including GMS and web.de.

This comes after Lavabit, an American email service that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is believed to have used, was shut down, leaving 300,000 users looking for another secure email provider.

It is believed that Ladar Levison, the owner of Lavabit, shut down the site rather than comply with NSA requests regarding Mr. Snowden.

“I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States,” Mr. Levison warned.

German politicians have also been considering how to protect themselves from U.S. surveillance programs. A member of the business-friendly Free Democrats recently hosted a “crypto party” for fellow politicians, where they learned how to encrypt their emails.

“It’s the same as locking your car,” said Jimmy Schulz, the party’s host. “Data have to be protected from trespassers, no matter whether they are members of the intelligence service or criminals.”

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