Obama, Merkel say they're still working on surveillance understanding

The two countries still have 'differences of opinion' on appropriate surveillance activities, Merkel says

The U.S. and German governments remain far from an agreement on the appropriate level of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency on German residents, leaders of both countries said Friday.

The two countries still have "differences of opinion to overcome" on the appropriate use of surveillance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint press conference with U.S. President Barack Obama. The two leaders met in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss political unrest in Ukraine and other issues.

The German government in October 20133 said U.S. intelligence agencies may have spied on Merkel's mobile phone. On Friday, Obama said it "pains" him that the relationship between the two countries has suffered after the revelations.

"These are complicated issues, and we're not perfectly aligned yet, but we share the same values, and we share the same concerns," Obama said.

Obama called Germany one of the "closest allies" of the U.S., but he declined to back a bilateral no-spy agreement that some Germans have pressed for. "We do not have a blanket no-spy agreement with any country," he said. "We have gone a long way in closing some of the gaps [with Germany]."

Obama noted that he's "taken the unprecedented step" of telling U.S. intelligence agencies to consider privacy concerns of foreigners when they conduct surveillance. Most other countries do not consider the privacy rights of people living outside their borders, he said.

"We have shared with the Germans the [surveillance] things that we are doing," Obama said. "Ordinary Germans are not subject to continual surveillance. Our focus is principally and primarily on, how do we make sure that terrorists ... are not able to engage in those activities."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags securityAngela MerkelU.S. National Security AgencygovernmentBarack Obamainternetprivacy

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