Why the EU’s Response to NSA Leaks Spying Scandal is Contradictory… and Vain

, by Berenice Darnault

Why the EU's Response to NSA Leaks Spying Scandal is Contradictory… and Vain

We know they know, you know. Big news this week. Big Brother US is watching EU leaders. « Phone calls are being tapped ». And they call it a scoop. No, really? Now, what is it with the Media’s new fashionable obsession with the EU’s theatrical outraged reaction to American cyber spying activities? Surely it has become a fashionable news headline lately– yet so obsolete too.

The Lives of Others

Let us dig up the media’s archives. Years ago, a paper from the Advisory Group on the Future of European Home Affairs was published. It indicated that ‘every object the individual uses, every transaction they make and almost everywhere they go will create a detailed digital record’. 40 years after the first CCTV was set up in Times Square, whistle-blower and former CIA contractor Edward Snowden reported, among other disclosures, that 60 million German phone calls had been tapped by the American National Security Agency. Potentially 35 world leaders and allied diplomatic representations were the targets of the American all-mighty spying machine. “We are photographing and listening to the entire globe”, reports Steven Aftergood for BBC News. Disturbing? Yes. New? No.

Control. Alt. Delete.

Surveillance systems have been eavesdropping data for years, while companies and stage agencies have been storing most of our information. National and international broadband providers have ‘saved’ our lives in files through our Google searches, our credit card transactions, health records, travel history and the diverse memberships to social networks. Although numbers differ from one source to another, there are more than 4 million CCTV (close-circuit television) cameras in the UK, while the average Brit appears on screen 300 times every day. The “007 phenomenon” is worldwide spread, and clearly it did not wait to be given citizens’ consent. In 2010, the Indian government launched a ten-year plan to create the world’s largest identity database. It is true that the whole world is under surveillance, but it is no longer a surprise. And yet, ironically, it is also true that the whole world likes and keeps on watching. So why make a fuss about it? As Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, rightly and bluntly states, “privacy is dead, get over it”. So please, not that hoary old chestnut again!

Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. So why do EU leaders only blame the NSA, when, as French newspaper Le Monde reported this week (22/10/2013), the British Government Headquarters (GCHQ) had similar activities with its allies? And let us not turn a blind eye on the additional help of several Internet behemoths, which may have given a strong hand to NSA too when storing data information. « We want to strengthen individual rights, especially transparency and the right to information, the right to access, and also the right to deletion », claimed Jan Philipp Albrecht from the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance earlier this week. So why complain about the activities of the NSA, which pretends to have this very right too?

Don’t get me wrong, though. Privacy is a value of the 21st Century, and it should not be dismissed. The scandal is very unsettling. Even more disturbing as the NSA failed to justify its actions convincingly. Terrorism seems a remote excuse.

Fighting the digital tsunami… tilting at windmills?

Despite the gravity of the scandal, there has not been yet a comprehensive response from the EU. Official press release from the European Parliament still partially overlooks the problem.

The scandal, exacerbated by the media, has but raised Cain in diplomatic prospects, hampering trade agreements and international peace actions between the US and the EU. There is not much point in straining at gnats at the Summits, having swallowed the substantial camel of agreements on immigration control or peace interventions in Syria. It seems several newspapers prefer to focus on the tittle-tattle of Mrs Merkel’s irritation, on French Minister’s cold handshake with John Kerry, or on the diverse ways of public protest at alleged snooping of former Mexican president Calderon and leader of Brazil Dilma Rousseff.

Pragmatic action was not entirely absent this week. A majority of MEPs did vote to suspend the EU’s Swift bank data exchange agreement with the US. However, some MEPs reckon that ‘they don’t have any proof at all that the NSA is spying on Swift data’. World leaders, among which Germany, Brazil and France, are to agree on a ‘spying transatlantic code of conduct’ with the US by the end of the year. This would somehow re-creates an updated version of the “Five Eyes”.

Digital democracy or breach of trust? Choose up sides!

After all, media coverage has revealed at least one thing this week: a paranoid suspicion now pervades all layers of society, no matter the political hierarchy –if there has ever been any, nor the degree of diplomatic leverage leaders have. Digital technologies have made individuals’ activities easier to capture, store and search. For the sake of transparency and collective security… Um, Sure.

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