Effects of loss of privacy
are more insidious
than many may believe
Angela Merkel is at the center of the German storm over massive government spying.
THE VIGOROUS AND virtuous public debate over government spying sparked by the revelations of Edward Snowden continues to reverberate around the globe.
The most recent development was published by the German magazine Der Spiegel on Monday in a story detailing how the American NSA and British GCHQ infiltrated OPEC computer systems and gathered data on the world oil industry.
But twin reports published almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic reveal different perspectives on the diplomatic fallout apparent now in Germany.
And a weekend broadcast shows that the consequences of the intrusions into personal privacy are far more insidious and pervasive than most people realize.
THE BOMBSHELL of the week came from a not-unexpected source. Der Spiegel has been in just a few steps behind The Guardian in its reporting on the scandal and vigorous in its coverage of the bugging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.
In its Monday report Oil Espionage: How the NSA and GCHQ Spied on OPEC we learn:
The story in Der Spiegel about how the US and UK have infiltrated OPEC. Click image to enlarge.
“America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ are both spying on the OPEC oil cartel, documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal. The security of the global energy supply is one of the most important issues for the intelligence agencies.”
The documents cited in the story show that both governments have infiltrated the computer network of the the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
“In January 2008, the NSA department in charge of energy issues reported it had accomplished its mission. Intelligence information about individual petroleum-exporting countries had existed before then, but now the NSA had managed, for the first time, to infiltrate OPEC in its entirety,” Der Spiegel reported.
Meanwhile, also onine on Monday, The New York Times analyzed the effect of the disclosures on American relations with Germany in Spying Scandal Alters U.S. Ties With Allies and Raises Talk of Policy Shift.
Alison Smale and David E. Sanger report:
“Almost never before has a spying scandal — in this case the revelation of the monitoring of the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — resulted in such a concrete, commercial backlash.
“Germany is now toughening its demands that the United States respect all domestic and international laws — code words for ceasing the surveillance on German soil amid rising anger at the United States.”
In fact, German businesses are publicly talking about walling off their internet so that traffic on it no longer passes through U.S. switching systems to which the spy agencies have access.
The Guardian’s story on John Kerry distancing the president from the scandal. Click image to enlarge.
About the same time, The Guardian in the UK reported the defensive posture taken by the Obama administration in the story John Kerry: world leaders have been understanding about NSA leaks.
“World leaders have been understanding about leaked revelations that the US spied on them as they know it was not all done under the orders of Barack Obama, the US secretary of state has said,” reported Rowena Mason.
“In an interview with the BBC, John Kerry said foreign governments understood the president did not personally authorize all the surveillance, which included tapping the mobile phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.”
So the Secretary of State is trying to distance the president from actual responsibility for the phone bugging. But the question no one has yet answered, is, what did Obama know and when did he know it?
WHILE THE DAILY revelations are shocking enough, a far deeper analysis of the mostly hidden impacts of the massive surveillance programs was aired over the weekend on the Moyers & Company show in a segment featuring the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild.
In the program notes to the show Heidi Boghosian on Spying and Civil Liberties we learn that Boghosian, author of Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance, says the government is working with corporations to illicitly spy on virtually all of us, not just suspected terrorists or the Angela Merkels of this world.
The Moyer & Company show delving deep into the effects of intrusions on privacy. Click image to enlarge.
“They are hand-in-hand working to gather information about Americans as well as people across the globe, to really be in a race to collect more information than any other country can.”
On the show, Moyers addressed a central question I have heard frequently from those who say government intrusion is no big deal.
“So it’s not a matter of your saying, as so many people are, “What if I’m not doing anything wrong, why should I care if anybody’s watching?”
The response was clear: “[T]hat’s a very simplistic answer because when one is under constant surveillance … it necessarily alters how you communicate. It makes us tamp down things that we might say,” Boghosian said.
“Whether or not we realize that, we may not engage in the kind of robust dialogue with our friends or our colleagues. We may not meet at public assemblies, because it’s become really under the watchful eye and wanting to maintain the status quo of big business.”
This is a crucial point.
The cooperation between government and private firms that are collecting vast amounts of personal data on just about everyone is the nexus of a much bigger issue.
“[T]he government is constricted by the Fourth Amendment’s provision that it may not engage in unreasonable searches and seizures,” Boghosian explains. “But businesses don’t have those same constraints. So they can collect information about us that the government lawfully is not allowed to do.
“And then the close partnership they enjoy with the government, blurs traditional lines of what government functions have been, and notions of privacy.”
To hammer home the point she adds:
“[T]he distinction right now between government and the corporate world is virtually nil. They are hand-in-hand working to gather information about Americans as well as people across the globe.”
This is the core issue in the entire hydra-like scandal that is morphing into a crisis of confidence in many countries.
The awareness that one’s hitherto private conversations are being monitored will have a dampening effect on the public discourse at every level. People will censor themselves, voluntarily restrict their participation in the public life of their community, look over their shoulders whenever they’re in the public space.
“[T]hat’s very damaging to the notion of democracy,” Boghosian said, “because the streets, the public parks, which are now increasingly corporatized in many urban areas don’t belong to us as a people anymore. They belong to corporations.”
One could just as easily say this about the entire electronic communications universe.
“[I]f we’re afraid to go there and congregate, it’s a sad testament to where we are,” Boghosian said.
A sad testament indeed.
FEEDBACK: Contact site admin directly