Brussels, 11/06/2013. The European Parliament is today debating US internet surveillance practices following the ongoing scandal about the US NSA (National Security Agency) PRISM programme and the way that it harvests private data from major internet service-suppliers such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others.
The lack of protection for EU-citizen data once it gets into the hands of US administrations has been known about for years, hence the Parliament’s concern over the EU/US PNR (Passenger Name Recognition) programme and the financial data handed over by SWIFT. But the latest scandal brought about by whistleblower and ex-NSA worker Edward Snowden, and published by The Guardian, has brought it to a head.
Civil rights disappearing
Government officials on both sides of the Atlantic have to date been content to fudge such issues and bury their collective heads in the sand. But last week’s events confirm what many have suspected for some time, that massive investments in IT and security-service manpower are trampling long-held civil rights for both Europeans and Americans into the dust.
ALDE President Guy Verhofstadt says, “this ‘Datagate’ means that all our emails and other electronic communication, including social media, even if sent only between EU citizens, can be intercepted and read by US security services. This has obvious and very serious privacy consequences for EU citizens”.
He continues, “we have always been firm on data protection within the EU and when negotiating with third countries, including the US. It would be unacceptable and would need swift action from the EU if indeed the US National Security Agency were processing European data without permission.”
Yet PRISM is but one of the many different information and data processing programmes available to and used by the present US administration. Similar technologies embrace voice calls, emails, faxes, photos, video and web-page access, giving access to almost every corner of individual and organisational life.
Activist? Your private life is over
In all the disturbing revelations that have emerged during the past week, I find two aspects particularly concerning. One is the fact that, alongside the various data-harvesting technologies, there are now equally powerful data analysis tools able to rapidly crunch this mountain of data and present only those items relevant to a particular individual or organisation. If you are that unfortunate, then nothing you do will ever be private. Unless you abandon the online world completely, all you do for the rest of your life will be flagged, noticed and marked as worthy of attention by people you would not trust and do not want to associate with.
The other disturbing fact is that, alongside massive increases in the payroll and power of the security services since 911, the US is also embarked on a huge privatisation programme in this area, possibly as a way of evading responsibility for some of the more dubious surveillance practices now emerging. Edward Snowden himself actually works for NSA subcontractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Others working for the NSA include firms such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, CACI International and hundreds of smaller companies clustered around the US capital.
So that, even if President Obama were to come out and promise radical change to the practices of the NSA and the plethora of other US security services, it is unlikely that he could deliver. Just like a metastasising cancer, the numbers of people and organisations involved have grown beyond the ability of any government action to contain them. And the President shows no sign of doing any such thing; merely insisting that US surveillance programmes are under strict supervision by all three branches of government.
My fear is that the European Parliament will prove equally powerless in curbing this cancerous growth of prying government. And since attempts at control follow monitoring as night follows day, then the thought police will simply grow ever more powerful.
A case for more austerity?
Which leads me to question why I pay my taxes. Why should anyone pay their hard-earned money to enable an administration to spy on them. Why should anyone work hard? Why should anyone seek to grow their business? To support over-fat security services whose main accomplishments seem to be to to pry into the affairs of ordinary people and bully them for minor misdemeanors?
I think it’s time that real-world austerity hit the security services; a cut of around 75% would be about right. Then perhaps people can once again go about their lives without being continually reminded how many others know about them.
© Philip Hunt, 2013
Further reading: http://www.opendemocracy.net/martin-eiermann/unholy-alliance