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Overstepping boundaries

Remember “Reach out and touch someone?” Well, President Obama did reach out and touch someone. The problem is, the person he touched just happened to be Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. And she’s not happy about it.

When she learned from Der Spiegel that the National Security Agency had been tapping her personal cellphone, Merkel was so pissed she called Obama immediately and told him to knock it off. She’s probably even more upset now — it was reported over the weekend that we’ve been tapping her private phone since 2002, before she became chancellor, that spying operations are run from the rooftop of the American Embassy, less than 800 yards from the Chancellery, and that Obama was told about the practice in 2010 and did nothing to stop it.

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Official White House response to Germany has been clumsy at best. Press secretary Jay Carney insists we are not spying on Merkel’s phone today and will not do so in the future. But he refuses to comment on whether we ever did so in the past, which means we did. The White House also denies Obama was ever aware we were tapping Merkel’s personal phone. But that only raises more serious questions: If not, why not? Did Obama really stand alongside Merkel at the Brandenburg Gate in June without knowing we were tapping her phone? Can the director of the NSA decide to tap an important ally’s personal phone without informing the president? Who’s in charge of our intelligence operations?

Germany, which is sending a high-level delegation to Washington this week, is only one of 35 countries we’re reportedly spying on to protest so far. In September, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil canceled her planned visit to the United States because NSA was spying on her government. Last week, President François Hollande of France summoned our ambassador to Élysée Palace for an official dressing-down. Now Spain reports the NSA listened in to 60.5 million phone calls made by Spanish citizens in the month of December 2012 alone. Who’s next?

Of course, most Americans don’t think it’s a big deal. Everybody spies on everybody. Besides, we share any vital information we collect. Obama should stop apologizing for it, advises Republican Congressman Peter King (N.Y.).

But that’s just plain wrong. Sure, we spy on other nations and they spy on us. But, among friends, there still should be some parameters.

Monitoring terrorist activity in France or Germany is one thing. But tapping the personal, private cellphone of a friendly world leader is totally different — and puts that leader in a tough political position at home.

Just imagine what our reaction would be if we learned that Israel, France or Germany were listening in on Obama’s personal BlackBerry. We’d be outraged. Republican or Democrat, no matter who the president was, we’d be outraged. And that’s the real test. If we wouldn’t tolerate spying on our own president, we shouldn’t be spying on other world leaders either.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.