Image Courtesy of LeMonde
The American government has recently been facing major backlash concerning some of the National Security Agency’s questionable choices. First, the NSA had to face serious accusations regarding industrial espionage in Brazil. To say that Brazil and the international arena reacted negatively towards said incident is an understatement. And now, tensions with various European allies are increasing as reports point to a new (or rather, ten-year) target: Germany.
Apparently, the NSA has not only been intercepting Dilma Rousseff’s calls, but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s as well. Reports such as the one from “Bild am Sonntag” display evidence that President Obama was aware of the ongoing surveillance of the German leader since 2010, however, the NSA was quick to deny any discussions regarding said operations between Obama and Keith Alexander, the NSA Director, in 2010.
The question whether Obama was personally involved or not is an important matter, but perhaps the damage is already done. If the President himself allowed Merkel’s personal cellphone to be tapped, German leadership will not react well. And if he didn’t, Merkel won’t forget that her phone has been under surveillance since 2002, a time when she was not even elected Chancellor. In this case, the NSA seems to be accused of spying and eavesdropping, as opposed to using its resources reasonably for security purposes.
If the situation wasn’t embarrassing enough for the U.S. before, it is now. After Brazil, diplomatic strains with Germany and France are the last thing that the U.S. government needs. It reflects poorly on the organization itself, but also on the American government and leadership. The news from this weekend is clearly the NSA’s third strike – it did anger, after all, several countries, two continents and some of the world’s most powerful leaders in a span of a handful of months. And now a dialogue has been opened. The discussions don’t only concern the NSA’s specific actions or targets, but question the basis of privacy and diplomatic communications in this technologically transparent day and age.
Privacy and security are two of the biggest matters regarding technology and surveillance in 2013, which is why it is crucial to define them clearly to avoid rising problems between allies. Infringements will not be taken lightly and various countries are rallying for this inexcusable behavior to stop. It is time for the NSA to stop blurring the lines, and take responsibility for its mistakes. Two important questions remain: how will the NSA/U.S. salvage the situation? And most importantly, what does this mean for global surveillance as a whole?