BERLIN — Germany canceled a Cold War-era surveillance pact with the United States and Britain on Friday in response to disclosures by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden about those countries’ alleged electronic eavesdropping operations.
The move appeared largely symbolic, designed to show that the German government was taking action to stop unwarranted surveillance directed against its citizens without actually jeopardizing relations with Washington and London. With weeks to go before national elections, opposition parties had seized on Snowden’s assertion that Germany was complicit in the NSA’s intelligence-gathering operations.
Government officials have insisted that US and British intelligence agencies were never given permission to break Germany’s strict privacy laws. But they conceded last month that an agreement dating back to the late 1960s gave the United States, Britain, and France the right to ask German authorities to conduct surveillance operations within Germany to protect their troops there.
‘‘The cancellation of the administrative agreements, which we have pushed for in recent weeks, is a necessary and proper consequence of the recent debate about protecting personal privacy,’’ Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement.
British Foreign Office brushed off the move. ‘‘It’s a loose end from a previous era which is right to tie up,’’ the Foreign Office said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Berlin, Ruth Bennett, confirmed that the agreement had been canceled but declined to comment further on the issue.
A German official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said the cancellation would have little practical consequences.