GERMANY and France are discussing plans to build a European communications network to improve data protection and avoid emails and other information passing through the United States.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to open talks with French President Francois Hollande this week following revelations of mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that have prompted huge concern in Europe.
Mrs Merkel, who will visit France on Wednesday, has been pushing for greater data protection in Europe following reports last year about US surveillance in Germany and elsewhere. Even Mrs Merkel's cell phone was reportedly monitored by American spies.
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She said in her weekly podcast that she disapproved of companies such as Google and Facebook basing their operations in countries with low levels of data protection while being active in countries such as Germany with high data protection.
"We'll talk with France about how we can maintain a high level of data protection," she said. "Above all, we'll talk about European providers that offer security for our citizens, so that one shouldn't have to send emails and other information across the Atlantic. Rather, one could build up a communication network inside Europe."
There is no doubt that Europe has to do more in the realm of data protection, she said.
Mr Hollande's office confirmed the governments had been discussing the matter and said Paris agreed with Berlin's proposals. "Now that the German government is formed, it is important that we take up the initiative together," an official said.
Government snooping is a particularly sensitive subject in Germany due to the heavy surveillance of citizens practised in communist East Germany and under Hitler, and there was widespread outrage at the revelations of NSA surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
"We've got to do more for data protection in Europe, there's no doubt about it," said Mrs Merkel.
Germany has been pushing, so far in vain, for a 'no-spy' agreement with Washington.
Mrs Merkel said she plans to discuss closer cooperation on climate protection with Mr Hollande ahead of a global climate conference in France next year, as well as security policies, in particular with respect to Africa.
A foreign policy spokesman for Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats recently said revelations about US spying had helped bring relations with Washington down to their worst level since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Washington has denied it monitored Mrs Merkel's personal phone, insisting its surveillance practices are focused on threats to national security. Mrs Merkel compared the spying to that of the Stasi secret police and accused the US of a grave breach of trust.
According to polls, the Germans have lost confidence in the US as a trustworthy partner and a majority of Germans regard Mr Snowden, a candidate in this week's Glasgow University rector election, as a hero.
The NSA also reportedly recorded millions of French phone calls, including those of the French authorities.
According to one report, in one month between December 10, 2012 and January 8, 2013, it recorded 70.3 million French calls.