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As Outrage Over U.S. Spying Reverberates, Budget Cuts Pinch German Plan to Tighten Net Security

The BSI is responsible for ensuring the IT security of Germany's federal government. Source: AP
The BSI is responsible for ensuring the tech security of Germany's federal government.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The U.S. National Security Agency’s spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone conversations has sparked a rethink in Berlin political circles that Germany must boost its cyber defenses.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany’s interior minister wants to significantly boost the scope of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI).
    • The agency is hamstrung by budget decisions by Germany’s parliament.
    • The German business community is concerned the BSI is being underfunded and overstretched.
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    Audio

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Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security had been receiving unaccustomed attention lately. The once obscure agency, whose German name is abbreviated as BSI, is responsible for managing the government’s computer and communications security.

But these days, the BSI is mentioned whenever government officials in Berlin speak about lessons learned from the U.S. National Security Agency’s spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.

Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, aims to significantly boost the scope of the BSI, which falls under his authority. Questions about secure information technology are becoming more complex and diverse and, “therefore, the additional expansion of the BSI is necessary,” said de Maizière, a member of Mrs. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

But Germany’s central IT-security agency faces acute financial problems, sources close to the BSI told Handelsblatt. Important projects for improving data security and updating the BSI’s protection recommendations for businesses are likely to be affected by budgetary constraints recently triggered by Germany’s parliament. Until further notice, all federal authorities will no longer be able to access funds unused from the previous year.

This decision hit the BSI particularly hard. Because complex IT projects often take years to complete, about €28 million ($37.6 million) in unspent funding had accumulated. The amount of money the BSI can no longer access counts for more than a third of its annual budget of about €80 million. The agency in Bonn is now allowed to spend money only on essential services.

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