BERLIN — German federal prosecutors say they are looking into whether reported U.S. electronic surveillance programs broke German laws.
The Federal Prosecutors' Office said in a statement Sunday that it was probing the claims so as to "achieve a reliable factual basis" before considering whether a formal investigation was warranted.
It also said private citizens were likely to file criminal complaints on the matter.
Germany news weekly Der Spiegel reports that at least one such complaint was lodged with prosecutors in the state of Hesse last week.
The magazine reported Sunday that apart from its PRISM program used to eavesdrop on Internet traffic, the U.S. National Security Agency also spied on European Union offices on both sides of the Atlantic.
A top German official accused the United States on Sunday of using "Cold War" methods against its allies, after a German magazine cited secret intelligence documents to claim that U.S. spies bugged European Union offices.
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was responding to a report by German news weekly Der Spiegel, which claimed that the U.S. National Security Agency eavesdropped on EU offices in Washington, New York and Brussels. The magazine cited classified U.S. documents taken by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that it said it had partly seen.
"If the media reports are accurate, then this recalls the methods used by enemies during the Cold War," Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said in a statement to The Associated Press.
"It is beyond comprehension that our friends in the United States see Europeans as enemies," she said, calling for an "immediate and comprehensive" response from the U.S. government to the claims.
According to Der Spiegel, the NSA planted bugs in the EU's diplomatic offices in Washington and infiltrated the building's computer network. Similar measures were taken at the EU's mission to the United Nations in New York, the magazine said.
Der Spiegel didn't publish the alleged NSA documents it cited or say how it obtained access to them. But one of the report's authors is Laura Poitras, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who interviewed Snowden while he was holed up in Hong Kong.
The magazine also didn't specify how it learned of the NSA's alleged eavesdropping efforts at a key EU office in Brussels. There, the NSA used secure facilities at NATO headquarters nearby to dial into telephone maintenance systems that would have allowed it to intercept senior EU officials' calls and Internet traffic, Der Spiegel report said.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger urged EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to take personal responsibility for investigating the allegations.
The United States has defended its efforts to intercept electronic communications overseas by arguing that this has helped prevent terror attacks at home and abroad.
Frank Jordans can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter