German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been besieged by questions about US spy programmes and whether she has been doing enough to confront the Americans about their privacy violations.

Questions surrounding National Security Agency (NSA) snooping dominated the chancellor's annual summer conference on Thursday, during which she was forced to defend her position and what she had done to secure the privacy of her citizens.

Germany is not a nation of surveillance. Germany is a nation of freedom.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Protecting personal data is an especially sensitive topic in Germany because of abuses by communist East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, and the Nazis' Gestapo.

Merkel's opponents in the September 22 parliamentary elections have seized on the issue, asserting that she has not done enough to protect Germans' privacy.

"Germany is not a nation of surveillance. Germany is a nation of freedom," Merkel said at the conference, adding that while she was committed to finding out the facts, Washington still needed time for its investigations.

"I have to take note that our American partners need time for the examination ... It wouldn't help to have an answer that would later turn out not to be truthful," she said, "so I prefer to wait."

A Deutschlandtrend poll published on Friday showed that more than two thirds of Germans were dissatisfied with what the government had done so far to explain the affair. 

'Clueless and helpless'

The outcry started with the confirmation by US officials last month of an electronic spying operation codenamed PRISM.

Since then a series of reports saying German authorities, including the military, knew about the programmes have emerged.

Merkel insisted her government is awaiting answers from the US to detailed questions about the NSA's activities and hopes to receive them "as soon as possible" but with no specific deadline.

The Chancellor said she had to strike a balance between guaranteeing Germans' security and protecting their privacy, insisting that she was not attempting to delay decisions until after the elections.

She repeated that she was pushing for the United Nations to add a protocol on data protection to a pact on human and civil rights and also for tougher standardised EU data protection rules. 

Following the press conference, Merkel's centre-left challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, termed her comments a sign of "alarming cluelessness and helplessness".

Also on Thursday, justice ministers from Germany and France signed a joint declaration pushing for new rules to protect EU citizens' privacy rights and punish violators. 

Source: Agencies