Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Germany and Surveillance - Hypocrisy and European Outrage



 picture from tabletmag.com
Last week, Europe-and the world-found out about the widespread intelligence gathering efforts that the US has been orchestrating on Europe's own soil, not shockingly, in a continent where-thanks to Eurocrats- privacy laws are global standards, and where the "right to be forgotten" is highly being pushed for, outraged followed afterwards.

From what I've read in The Guardian in a report yesterday (July 8) as negotiations begin on the US-EU Free-Trade-Agreement one of the issues that will surely be brought up is the relaxation of tough data protection and privacy laws of the EU so that US firms like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft can operate more freely on EU soil, but with the revelation that these companies were willy participants on the grand scheme of the NSA (National Security Agency) and GCHQ (The Government Communications Headquarters), clarifications will surely be sought for first by the EU negotiators. Le Monde earlier this week reported and revealed that France as well (not surprising to me  I am thinking of the success of French intelligence during their pursuit of the suspect in the Toulouse shooting) runs a vast surveillance operation that, like the NSA, is also intercepting and storing citizens' phone data and internet activity.




Her Imperial Majesty of Europe Angela Merkel's official statement was:



                     "The monitoring of friends -- this is unacceptable, it can't be tolerated. We're no longer in the Cold War. Our cooperation must be based on trust. This trust must be reestablished now."


Something irritated me a lot about the concerted reactions last week by EU-member states leaders. Let's focus in the context of Germany, shall we ? (obviously that's what I am writing about) Merkel has a lot of nerves trying to criticize the NSA for its spying activities. Lets go back in time shall we? Why the hypocrisy? BND (German abbreviation for Germany's foreign intelligence agency) and BfV (German abbreviation for Germany's domestic intelligence agency) what again happened with Murat Kurnaz? Who lead that innocent man to Guantanamo Bay? And how much does Germany benefit from CIA and NSA anyway?A lot for sure, for better or for worse! So please stop the hypocrisy Merkel! A fact for the Germans to reconcile is  that Germany and Europe in general benefits a lot from this Tempora and Prism programs as Der Spiegel reported this week in their interview with Snowden. Yes surveillance had committed plenty of mistakes in the past, specially in context of Germany, East or West, Spiegel Affair, Stasi, Kurnaz-mistake, but post-all of that AKA contemporary Germany, but the unknown countless plots it had surely uncovered-would have been numerous by now- is a worthy trade-off.

picture from abcnews.go.com

As Obama greatly put it for us to understand, you can't expect being secured without the use of war, while at the same time expecting no trade-off like drones, surveillance, increased intelligence gathering. Will we ever know how many threats has the BND and BfV has successfully stopped, the plots that might have caused serious damage? Of course not, precisely because of the nature of these agencies- they're suppose to be and expected to be secretive in their workings.

As M-played by Judi Dench-perfectly put it in one of my favorite scenes in Skyfall during her address to a parliamentary committee:

                      "Chairman, ministers, I've repeatedly heard how irrelevant my department has become. Why do we need agents, the 00 section? Isn't it all rather quaint? Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do, and the truth is that what I see frightens me. I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they aren't nations. They are individuals. And look around you - who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No, our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque! The shadows - that's where we must do battle. So before you declare us irrelevant, ask yourselves - how safe do you feel? Just one more thing to say. My late husband was a great lover of poetry, and um - I suppose some of it sunk in, despite my best intentions. And here today, I remember this, I believe, from Tennyson: We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."


So my message to Germans is simple? Stop being hypocrites! you act like the EU is so squeaky clean when Germany itself with its numerous violations of privacy abroad (try applying for a residency permit in one of Germany's consular offices) At the end of the day this program being conducted not just to protect civilization, including me and you, is actually a worthy trade-off to wars, instead of complaining about it and fueling the fire of outrage even more, the EU should find a way in which this programs are regulated, so that no abuse of authority from the pool of unknown number of employees of the American intelligence complex (some estimates ran as high as 1.4 million) with security clearances can take place.

Der Spiegel this week have raised the issue of how much is Germany in bed with the intelligence agencies of the US and UK, anyway if so, then what? If tomorrow, the BND and the BfV in their effort to calm the public and reassure them their motives aren't sinister, releases documents of terror plots they have successful uncovered and distinguished, couldn't that be a humiliating moment for those who denounce this program completely, and dare call it quasi-Stasi?

Reaction has been one of excessive outrage, with top German politicians demanding that the spying cease immediately. And as revealved by a recent survey undertaken by pollsters, infratest-dimap, for the public television station ARD, would seem to indicate that many in the country share that indignation. Fully 78% agreed with the statement that German Chancellor Angela Merkel "must protest more unequivocally to the US."

What if Germany does spy on its citizens? The key question Germans should be asking how much does its highly sophisticated intelligence agencies cooperate with these agencies, and if any politician in Germany, before the revelation even occurred, was aware of it and tolerated it, not just purely demonizing the US because at the end of the day, Germany benefited and continues to benefit a lot just like EUdoes. Why are their answers more limited and reserved (no, its not typical German reserve working here its something else!) It's in line with the idea of the US telling Germany "wait a minute if you didn't explicitly gave us permission whether at the NATO, EU, or German level to do this, at least implicitly you still tolerated it". If they did, that means that for years the BND have had knowledge of this surely as the Grundgesetz (Basic Law, quasi-constitution) requires it, that these agencies report or at least inform some key politicians about his, then why did that politician stay quiet? Because common sense, it worked and works besides the occasional blip and collateral damage!

A great commentary by Jan Fleischhauer of Der Spiegel sums it up quite well, after reading it I realized this: in short its the Americans doing the dirty-work for the chattering classes of Europe while they continue going on safely with their lives and expect a safe world pro bono.

Okay I know what you're going to say, Germany has one of the best privacy laws in the world and with implementation vis-a-vis with the EU is very protective of its people's rights, I don't challenge that. I admire Europe for having such an advance privacy-law infrastructure from Brussels to national governments, with Facebook and the likes, with the world bowing to EU privacy laws from the last decade, with the infamous case of General Motors Corp. in 2002 attempted to update its employees address book to encourage contact among its employees but it was stalled by the EU because the information was going to be sent to the headquarters in the US- a state deemed by the EU as having "inadequate privacy laws". The result was the proliferation of “CPOs” in MNCs all over the world. Over 400 large US companies have sign privacy agreements with the EU to avoid heavy fines and to comply without the need for US legislative updates. According to Alan Westin of Columbia University Law School, an expert on privacy, “Brussels privacy standards are now global standards”. ( Reid, 2004, p. 233-35)





-Paul-




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