White House Press Photo
Surprise, surprise: Many European countries are also involved in mass surveillance of citizens, sidestep civil liberty laws, and share information with each other.
The news was revealed as part of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s latest leaks and was reported by The Guardian. According to the report, Germany, France, Spain, and Sweden have been engaging in mass wiretapping of Internet communications and telephone calls over the past five years and have been passing that information to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
According to the report, the countries have created a “loose but growing eavesdropping alliance,” and that the information is retrieved through “direct taps into fiber optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies.”
The timing of the leaks are particularly comical: Last week, after news that the NSA spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, the Chancellor said in a statement that she “views such practices … as completely unacceptable,” adding that she deserved “an immediate and comprehensive explanation” from the U.S. government. Spanish and French leaders have also expressed concern about NSA spying, but recent reports suggest that those governments were complicit in the surveillance.
The leaks lend some credibility to the claims the NSA has been making since this whole thing started that American allies also engage in spying (and help the U.S. do it). Earlier this week, National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress that it’s a “basic tenet” of spying to foreign leaders, and said that other countries “absolutely” conduct the same type of spying on U.S. leaders.
For now, it seems safe to say that (nearly) everyone is spying on everyone, and that mass surveillance is certainly not a strictly American endeavor.
James Lewis, a policy specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Wall Street Journal as much on Tuesday, saying that there’s a far-reaching web of sharing between countries.
“That the evil NSA and the wicked U.S. were the only ones engaged in this gross violation of international norms—that was the fairy tale,” he said. “It was never true. The U.S.’s behavior wasn’t outside the norm. It is the norm.”
The newest leaks also means Edward Snowden can probably kiss his chances of being granted asylum in Germany goodbye. At this point, it seems like Snowden is burning bridges as fast as he can build them. Germany has, for the most part, been able to take a holier-than-thou stance on NSA spying: It’s previously fined Google for its data practices. Hell, Friday, Germany and Brazil went to the UN General Assembly with a draft resolution that would make mass surveillance a violation of international human rights laws. The resolution says the country is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications.”
According to the Guardian report, an internal document from the UK’s GCHQ says it is the Italians, not the Germans, who have the biggest hangups—or incompetencies—when it comes to spying and data sharing.
“The Italian intelligence community to be fractured and unable/unwilling to cooperate with one another,” it said. Meanwhile, the the group had “been assisting [German intelligence] in making the case for reform or reinterpretation of very restrictive interception legislation in Germany.”
At this point, it’d be surprising to see countries who aren’t spying on their people. It also means stopping unbridled domestic surveillance is going to be a much harder task than most of us thought.