By Martin Langfield
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
As Germany basks in its World Cup victory, it’s easy to forget that one of the most telling geopolitical moments of the tournament came during the Germany-U.S. game. As American fans chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” the Germans countered with, “N-S-A! N-S-A! N-S-A!”
The files stolen from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden, the quiet American who has turned the security world inside out, drip out week by week – in The Guardian, on the new website The Intercept, financed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, in the German weekly Spiegel and in the Washington Post. The last of these outlets had the latest installment on Monday. It told us that “ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike” had been swept into the NSA’s computers in far greater numbers than foreigners reasonably suspected of possible terrorist links.
Questions about the legitimacy and efficacy of the mass-surveillance techniques used by the National Security Agency continue to swirl around the globe. The debate in the United States has mostly focused on a misleading trade-off between security and privacy.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently lambasted legislation that may prevent the White House from transferring the lethal drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department. The provision is in a classified part of the bill, so the public may never know what it says.
The fallout from the Edward Snowden revelations continues to snowball. With each disclosure, allies, businesses and influential authors call for reform. There is ever growing pressure on the Obama administration to respond and quell these concerns before permanent damage is done.
In 2005, Karen Hughes became George W. Bush’s undersecretary of public diplomacy. Her charge, both poorly defined and ill-timed, was to improve America’s international image in the years after the country had launched two wars. Other countries will side with us and do what we want if only we better explain our point of view, the thinking went, and make them see us as we see ourselves. By the time Hughes left office in 2007, international opinion of the U.S. was no higher than it was when she arrived, according to polls.
Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, is unsurprisingly an advocate of data extraction and analysis on a mass scale – you’d almost have to be, as data-cruncher-in-chief of a company whose search engine was tapped a billion times just since this morning.