Security staff at the German phones giant Deutsche Telekom are suspected of breaching German data privacy laws during a secret attempt to identify the sources of high-level leaks to the media, the company said Saturday. Using the company's own records of millions of numbers dialled, the dates and the durations, the internal-security unit had hunted for possible matches between news reporters and Telekom directors.
Both public prosecutors and a German law firm have been assigned to investigate the suspected breach three years ago of German data- retention laws. Bonn-based Telekom said it had purged the security department last year to ensure it operated within the law.
The scandal was first reported Saturday morning by the German news weekly Der Spiegel in advance of its Monday issue. Telekom, one of the biggest companies on the German stock market, remains one third in federal ownership. Its affairs are closely followed by the German news media, which have often reported leaks from authoritative sources. Spiegel said the corporate security division had suspected senior executives or supervisory board members might be to blame.
Telekom said calls were not actually tapped, but the billing data had been illegally accessed in 2005 and "according to new claims" in 2006 too. Chief executive Rene Obermann said, "We're taking this very seriously. We have reported it to the public prosecutor."
In recent years German companies whose shares are traded in the United States have adopted the US practice of investigating and publicizing criminal actions within their own bureaucracies.