Listening in on Europeans

Europeans are apoplectic over the U.S. National Security Agency's massive PRISM surveillance program.

Relax, everybody—the U.S. is only spying on “foreigners,” said El Periódico de Catalunya (Spain) in an editorial. Of course, last we checked, that includes almost everyone in the world. Europeans are apoplectic over revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency—the massive and opaque spying authority that is even more secretive than the CIA—is vacuuming up everyone’s emails and phone records and sifting through them for hints about terrorist networks. The U.S. government is trying to soothe Americans’ concerns by assuring them that a special court must authorize any snooping that could touch on U.S. citizens’ data. Yet there’s no limit whatsoever on the use of foreigners’ data in this dragnet, codenamed PRISM. “These mass surveillance programs are an unacceptable violation of the private sphere, even if the U.S. Congress has given them its approval.”

This isn’t the first time the U.S. has spied on its allies without informing them, said Jean-Pierre Stroobants in Le Monde (France). In 2006, we learned that the CIA had been secretly gathering data from SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. It took four years after that for the EU and the U.S. to work out a treaty governing that information. It took even longer to agree on how the U.S. could use and store the data it was illegally collecting on European airline passengers. What seems to rankle EU leaders most about these latest, far graver revelations is that once again, “Brussels was in no way informed in advance.”

Little wonder, said Holger Schmale in the Berliner Zeitung (Germany). The Americans know Europeans react badly to spying. That’s why President Obama is sure to face some “awkward questions” when he visits Berlin next week. Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised she’ll bring up the NSA’s “systematic snooping,” but she’d better do more than that. For good historical reasons, Germany has very strict laws protecting its citizens’ private data. Our government needs to explain “what it plans to do about the massive and unjustified clandestine bugging of German citizens by American spy agencies.” It can’t sit meekly by and do nothing about the threat of our total surveillance by a foreign state, “however friendly it may be.”

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Beyond sputtering about our outrage, there’s frankly nothing we can do, said Andrian Kreye in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). Millions of Germans are on Facebook. Practically everyone has ordered something from Amazon, which has local sites in every European language. We all search with Google, and we love our Apple devices. All these are U.S. companies, and the U.S. government has access to all those firms’ data. The American public apparently doesn’t mind a bit. What this scandal really shows is that “the Internet is still America’s sphere, and the rest of the world is only a guest in it.”

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