Feature

Europe is complicit in spying

It’s not just the Americans who have developed a gigantic spying apparatus.

Europeans could hardly be more disappointed in Barack Obama, said Gérald Papy in Le Vif (Belgium). We welcomed his election, thinking he would be “like a big brother—only to find he is actually the face of Big Brother.” NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has opened our eyes to the extent of U.S. spying on European communications, and the entire Continent is aghast. Our emails, phone calls, and social media usage are all logged. “Can we simply accept, without reacting, that private companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook become—whether coerced or voluntarily—the armed wing of a rogue state?”

Ah, but it’s not just the Americans, said Le Monde (France) in an editorial. France, too, has “developed a gigantic apparatus to spy on all of its citizens and beyond.” And our program is, in some respects, worse than the U.S. one because ours “skirts the edges of legality.” Everything is available to any of the government’s eight intelligence bodies. And unlike in the U.S., there’s not even the fig leaf of a check or balance: None of the data collection is overseen by the judiciary or legislature. Our democracy “has in its possession an instrument of totalitarian control.” That makes the French denunciation of Obama sound rather hypocritical.

The British government is even worse, said Mary Dejevsky in The Independent (U.K.). According to Snowden’s documents, British intelligence “taps into Internet traffic carried by undersea cables” as part of a program that is “in some ways more comprehensive, more sophisticated, and more global in its reach than the NSA’s PRISM.” In fact, we’re all implicated, said Christoph Prantner in Der Standard (Austria). The “chorus of indignation from European politicians” is sincere, of course, as most of our lawmakers had no idea what the Americans were up to. But evidently our European Internet service providers “participated in the American data sweep without hesitation, and with no apparent concern about why it was happening.” This acquiescence makes all our ranting sound like “a symphony of hypocrisy.”

But why does Europe submit to whatever the Americans want? asked Jakob Augstein in Der Spiegel (Germany). Earlier this month, several European countries denied Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane permission to fly through their airspace because they suspected Snowden was on board. The U.S. didn’t even ask them to do so; “it was a voluntary gesture of submission.” Germany will not be so meek. Our government has demanded—and forced Obama to accede to—high-level talks between U.S. and German security officials to discuss setting limits on American snooping. If no other Europeans are willing to take a stand, “Germany, at least, can agitate for a Europe in which citizens’ freedoms are not negotiable.” We are obliged to apply our hard-won lessons from “the Nazi terror and the Stasi regime.”

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