Massive NSA spying is not business as usual

News reports recently have focused on the angry reactions of the leaders of Brazil, Mexico, France, and Germany to reports that the NSA was eavesdropping on even their communications with their close confidantes and cabinet ministers and, in the case of the German chancellor, even her cell phone.

Defenders of the NSA sometimes dismiss these protestations as pro forma, done hypocritically for domestic political purposes, since it is asserted that all countries spy on each other and know this. It is the usual defense put out by supporters of the national security state, president Obama, or whichever government happens to be in power, by saying that this is nothing new or that everyone does this or this is business as usual.

But I am not so sure about this. It is one thing to be aware that nations may spy on one another in targeted and specific ways but it is quite another to think that someone is monitoring and storing all your communications. And at least among leaders who are ostensibly allies, they may expect to receive some privacy even if they are willing to sacrifice the privacy of some of their citizens.

No one should be comfortable with the idea that every conversation they have is being listened to and recorded. Apart from the sheer creepiness of it, it opens up the very real the possibility of blackmail. We have enough examples of politicians involved in scandals to realize that a lot of them engage in things that they would not like to become public, even if they are not illegal or dangerous.

As a result of the Snowden revelations, we know that very low-level people have access to all this information and that some of them have used it to spy on their lovers. From there it is a short step to someone selling information for use in divorce cases and to gain an advantage in other private feuds, and it is only a matter of time before we hear of blackmail scandals involving the use of this data, with politicians likely some of the targets.

The group Stop Watching Us has put out an ad to garner support for the rally on Saturday, October 26 in Washington DC.


  1. left0ver1under says

    For those who think the US wouldn’t misuse recorded information, history says otherwise. In the late 1960s, the CIA eavesdropped on the office of Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister (back when the Labour Party were socialists) and gave the recordings to the Conservatives, helping them win the 1970 election.

    Interfering in the elections and governance of other countries (democratic or not) is a normal state of affairs for the US, not the exception.

  2. trucreep says

    The abuse is definitely the biggest problem, as you pointed out, history tells us this will happen. Another problem with the current philosophy of capturing everything is that it endangers our data. Everything that they collect can be exploited. Not only that, the NSA actually makes it easier for criminals or other agencies to access this information as they purposefully place weaknesses or back doors for them to exploit.

    Just like Stuxnet, the shortsightedness and incompetence of the people in charge of some of the most dangerous tools is astounding.

  3. Nick Gotts says

    BBC Radio 4’s “Today” news programme this morning had an American ex-ambassador (to the EU, I think) taking exactly the line Mano Singham notes: that it’s all to be expected, the outrage is fake, etc. One other thing he said struck me: he listed the “values” the USA and its allies allegedly have in common: democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, etc. I noticed that he omitted “respect for privacy”.

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