Dec 30, 2014 · 1 minute

All its complaints about the National Security Agency's global surveillance programs haven't stopped Germany from providing information to the United States to track German citizens suspected of traveling to the Middle East to join extremist groups.

German intelligence is sharing the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of suspected extremists with the US because it fears some might bring their radicalism back to the country in service of a terrorist plot, according to the Washington Post.

Information about 550 German citizens is said to have been shared with the US. The United Nations said in October that as many as 15,000 foreign fighters have traveled from France, the United Kingdom, and other European countries to Iraq and Syria.

The Post's report describes the tension between Germany's desire to protect itself and its opposition to the NSA's surveillance programs. It's a touchy subject, given the country's experience with overreaching surveillance, as this passage makes clear:

German officials bristled at the suggestion of inconsistency in Berlin’s willingness to accept intelligence presumably obtained by the U.S. programs and methods it had condemned. Several made the argument that Germany should not be criticized for receiving such intelligence, because U.S. spy agencies rarely disclose precisely how they got it.
That argument is bullshit.

Willful ignorance is no excuse for abandoned ideals. Germany can condemn the NSA for invading the privacy of millions of people around the world. It can then use some US intelligence to protect its citizens. But it can't claim that isn't at all hypocritical.

There's an inherent conflict between a citizenry's desire to maintain its privacy and its government's desire to defend against terrorist attacks. That's why it's been so hard for reform advocates to make any progress in the fear-mongering US Congress.

Balancing the two competing ideals is difficult. The problem is that Germany is trying to shield itself from any criticism for tipping the scales in favor of security by closing its eyes, receiving NSA help, then condemning the scale's shift from privacy.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]