The US Keeps Getting Caught Spying on Allies

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 11:26 AM

(Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday morning, I wrote that allegations the NSA had intercepted French phone calls weren't actually very important. My logic was that allies spy on each other routinely. When they get caught, there’s a lot of ceremonial outrage and apology that amounts to very little.

It’s Thursday now, and I’m less sure. Since Monday, we’ve seen stories about the NSA allegedly snooping broadly on Italian communications and on the phone of Angela Merkel, Germany’s head of state.

At a certain point, if the US is brazen or unlucky enough to consistently get caught spying on our allies, maybe there are consequences.

Separately, this week the European Parliament voted to stop sharing Europeans’ personal financial data with US corporations. From the Guardian:

US companies providing data services in Europe but not based there would need to obtain special permission before they could transfer information to, and store it in, the US, where it may be tapped by the NSA. They would face swingeing fines if found to be in breach.

To be clear, the vote isn’t binding. It’ll serve as a framework for continuing negotiations. However, each time a paper reports on these continued negotiations, they seem to mention the latest US spying blunder. The Guardian’s report pivots from the data negotiations to the story of US spying on French communications. The BBC pivots instead to the story of the US spying on Germany.

At a certain point, you have to wonder how much the US’s ability to gather data overseas will be impeded by the fact that we make it so difficult for our allies to pretend to trust us in public.


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Comments [2]

(Aargh. Typing without proof-reading. Bad form.) Meant to say "some days ago" and also left out the bit about the response I got on FB which was basically that "everybody else does it" is not an excuse. I'm puzzled by that reaction. It's as if people believe we shouldn't be spying on our allies. To me, it seems prudent. International relations are tricky not least because the public mouthpiece doesn't always say what the private leadership believes / hopes / angles for.

Oct. 24 2013 01:17 PM

Agree. I posted a comment on FB some days about wondering what all the fuss was about since everyone spies on everyone else - at the very least because it can bolster negotiating positions. I kept thinking that after a little public fist-shaking, this would blow over, but it just keeps on coming. Is this, do you think, driven by "public outrage" or is it "slow news-cycle" or something else?

I'm having a hard time believing that there are so many naive people out there that it could truly be public outrage.

Oct. 24 2013 01:13 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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