The NSA and our Allies


480px-National_Security_Agency.svgAsked how the United States could better undermine good will from our allies — particularly, among commercially successful, technically savvy nations with small-l liberal values — one would be hard-pressed to find a better answer than to cite (essentially) unlimited powers of surveillance, coupled with the stated belief that technology companies should be encouraged/required to provide our intelligence services with backdoor access to their databases. For good measure, emphasize that we consider these methods to be in accordance with the fairly radical demands of the Fourth Amendment as it relates to our own citizens. Then, add that our supposed good judgement and self-restraint did not stop us from tapping the personal phone of the head of state of one of our closest allies, who just happens to have grown up under a government infamous for tyrannical surveillance.

Unfortunately, that is precisely the situation we find ourselves in and — unsurprisingly — it has consequences:

Judges at the European Union’s top court struck down the so-called safe-harbor accord after an Austrian law student complained about how U.S. security services can gain unfettered access to Facebook Inc. customer information sent to the U.S. Other U.S. companies, including Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., may also be effected.

The 15-year-old agreement, which allows American companies to move commercial data back to the U.S., compromises the privacy of EU citizens and their right to challenge the use of their information, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said Tuesday.

“This judgment is a bombshell,” said Monika Kuschewsky, special counsel at Covington & Burling LLP in Brussels. “The EU’s highest court has pulled the rug under the feet of thousands of companies that have been relying on safe harbor. All these companies are now forced to find an alternative mechanism for their data transfers to the U.S. And, this, basically overnight.”

To be clear, it is no news that governments spy on each other, nor that they do so on each other’s citizens; the United States does not and should not have obligations to foreigners equal to those for its own citizens. What is new, however, is the novel inability to live a modern, peaceable life without having one’s affairs be susceptible to scrutiny from American authorities, should they decide to sneak a peak. Unsurprisingly, this has not gone over well.

Given the realities of the internet age and the potential danger posed by terrorism, there will almost certainly be some trade-off between our desire for intelligence and respecting our allies’ privacy. But if our government is going to persist in its panopticon-inspired attitudes regarding electronic communications, we should expect continued resistance from those whose trade, trust, and assistance we need.

That seems like a steep price.

Published in Foreign Policy
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There are 4 comments.

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  1. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel

    The irony of our frankly socialist friends and neighbors having a better privacy story than the US should not be lost on us. As I’ve said before, if we care about the technically correct (the best kind of correct) use of language, we are driven to the conclusion we are not socialist (at least not as socialist as our friends and neighbors). Rather, we are fascist. And the sooner we get honest about that and what to do about it, the better. Too bad the only (R) candidate that gives any indication of giving a flying [CoC] at a rolling doughnut about it is trailing along at about 6% and rumored to be the next to go.

    • #1
  2. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett

    Great Ghost of Gödel: technically correct (the best kind of correct)

    Number 1.0???

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  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator

    Jeb says Tom Meyer, Ed. should quit demonizing the NSA.

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  4. Hank Rhody Contributor
    Hank Rhody

    I feel no need to apologize for spying on our allies. Alliances come and go, and if we can get our spyware on Angela Merkel’s phone, so much the better. Now, I’d expect our diplomatic corps to apologize for this kind of thing, but I don’t expect diplomatic apologies to actually mean anything.

    I’m quite willing to dial back this kind of activity (at least the things they know we’re doing) to facilitate trade. Assuming some hard-nosed evaluation of our national self interest and the tradeoffs involved.

    This is entirely neglecting the issues involved with using those self same intelligence techniques on American Citizens, mind you.

    • #4
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