Privacy Advisor

Roundup: NSA, UK Fallout Persists

July 1, 2013

By Jennifer L. Saunders, CIPP/US

Even the weekend news cycle is not immune to new developments in U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and UK spying allegations, with headlines upon headlines of new news and reactions to Edward Snowden’s revelations.

The New York Times' Kevin O’Brien writes, “Europe was in an uproar Sunday over a magazine’s charge that Washington bugged European Union offices in the United States,” but adds that, “the backlash on another type of intrusion has been surprisingly muted, namely the disclosure that U.S. technology leaders…may have shared EU citizens’ personal data with an American surveillance program called PRISM.”

The “uproar” O’Brien describes came from a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel entitled “How the NSA Targets Germany and Europe.” Der Spiegel followed up on Monday with, “Friends or Foes? Berlin Must Protect Germans from U.S. Spying,” quoting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s response: “The monitoring of friends—this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated. We're no longer in the Cold War.”

Indeed, Germany's foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador, The Wall Street Journal reports, noting, “Merkel's government on Monday demanded clarity from the U.S. over allegations that the National Security Agency spied on European Union institutions, saying that if true, they would constitute an unacceptable breach of trust between the close partners.”

A spokesman for U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy confirmed he was scheduled to speak with the Foreign Ministry’s political director on Monday, the report states, noting the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said it “is responding to the EU privately about the allegations.”

The Der Spiegel report alleging the NSA “targeted the European Union with its spying activities” may also impact the EU-U.S. Passenger Name Record (PNR) program and trade negotiations.

International Business Times reports that opponents of the PNR program are calling for a hold on data exchange agreements.

“The EU should cancel the agreements on Swift and PNR with the U.S.,” MEP Rebecca Harms said. “The last few days have shown how urgently we need an international agreement on data protection.”

And AFP reports on warnings from European Commissioner Viviane Reding that “a long-awaited trade deal” may now be in jeopardy.

"We can't negotiate a large transatlantic market if there is any doubt that our partners are bugging the offices of European negotiators," Reding said.

UK Spying Allegations

Amidst the U.S. NSA revelations, Reding has also called for answers into reports of spying in the UK.

Al Jazeera reports that in addition to the NSA-PRISM disclosures, Snowden also leaked papers indicating the UK's Government Communications Headquarters “gained access to much of the world's internet and telephone traffic by tapping into fibre-optic cables running in and out of the country” for a project codenamed Tempora.

Tempora has raised concerns across the globe, the report states, while also noting London Metropolitan Police activities are being called into question.

"The UK's surveillance laws are amongst the most lax across the world," Privacy International’s Gus Hosein told Al Jazeera. "We knew that the laws were drafted with massive holes in them to permit mass surveillance, but we had been promised so many times that this surveillance was not taking place. We didn't believe them, and Edward Snowden's revelations have given us the proof that we so badly needed.”

The UK’s foreign secretary, meanwhile, has defended the activities as necessary and within the scope of the law.  

Differences of Opinion

It is not surprising that with daily headlines detailing the latest developments in the PRISM and Tempora revelations, bloggers and op-ed writers are penning a wide variety of opinions.

Computerworld’s Steve Pate sums up the NSA-PRISM developments to date, questioning, “Will PRISM kill the cloud?”

Pate opines that while he expects “it may make companies think twice about moving mission-critical applications to the cloud for a period of time, the siren call of Infrastructure as a Service will continue to lure business to the cloud. It just means we need to pay even more attention to data privacy and security.”

In his blog for The Times of India, MJ Akbar looks at the UK and U.S. spying reports in relation to the theme of kissing privacy goodbye.

Calling the incidents “massive incursions by U.S. and British agencies into private lives,” Akbar writes, “Privacy, a cornerstone of individual liberty in a free society, now belongs to the past tense. America, the world's largest people-friendly democracy, and China, the world's largest people-friendly dictatorship, have used war as the excuse and technology as the means to monitor the language, and through that the thought process, of any individual they want to target. If other nations, including Russia or India, have not succeeded as spectacularly, it is not for want of trying.”

Frank Rich, however, offers a completely different perspective in his New York Magazine column entitled “When Privacy Jumped the Shark.”  

Suggesting it is Snowden’s efforts to avoid capture that have piqued the interest of Americans rather than his disclosures about the NSA’s access to their private information, Rich writes, “The truth is that privacy jumped the shark in America long ago. Many of us not only don’t care about having our privacy invaded but surrender more and more of our personal data, family secrets and intimate yearnings with open eyes and full hearts to anyone who asks and many who don’t, from the servers of Fortune 500 corporations to the casting directors of reality-television shows to our 1.1 billion potential friends on Facebook.”

Next Up

The U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) will hold a public meeting next week to discuss the NSA programs, announcing its July 9 public workshop will include insights from “invited experts, academics and advocacy organizations regarding surveillance programs operated pursuant to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

Read more by Jen Saunders:
NSA and Legislative Breach Implications, New Breach Announcements: A Roundup
GPEN Concludes Its First Internet Privacy Sweep