Here's Why The EU Is Crazy Not To Insist On Full Transparency During TAFTA/TTIP

from the information-asymmetry dept

One of the most recent Snowden stories has garnered relatively little attention, perhaps because it appeared (in English) on the Danish site Information.dk:

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, the world's nations were supposed to reach an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate change. But not everyone was playing by the rules. A leaked document now reveals that the US employed the NSA, its signals intelligence agency, to intercept information about other countries' views on the climate negotiations before and during the summit. According to observers, the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations
As the report on Information.dk explains, the US was able to use inside knowledge of the negotiating positions of other countries to strengthen its bargaining position. Indeed, it didn't bother bargaining at all, since it learned that there was a "final" proposal being held in reserve to reach an agreement that would give it pretty much what it wanted. It knew that it only had to wait.

It's a great story, and well-worth reading, but here I want to concentrate on its implications for another major agreement, currently being negotiated: TAFTA/TTIP. On the one side is the US, on the other, the 28 nations that go to make up the European Union. Because they have differing views on the TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, it's necessary to pass around many documents conveying information about the current negotiations, and seek to obtain some kind of consensus on future EU proposals and flexibilities.

In the wake of Snowden's revelations, security will doubtless be much better than during the Copenhagen Summit, when supposedly secret messages were sent using unencrypted emails. But it only needs one weak link in the European Union's security chain -- somebody who forgets to encrypt his or her message, or who leaves it on a system that has been compromised -- and the NSA will be able to access that information, and pass it on to the US negotiators, just as it did in Copenhagen.

The key point is that there is a profound information asymmetry in the TAFTA/TTIP talks. Although the spy agencies of the EU countries will doubtless be trying their best to obtain confidential information about US negotiating tactics, it will be much harder than it is for the US to do the same about EU positions. That's because the NSA is far larger, and far more expert than the EU agencies. GCHQ is probably the nearest in terms of capabilities, but is so closely allied with the NSA in other areas that it probably won't be trying too hard so as not to annoy its paymaster.

This more or less guarantees that the US will know everything about the EU's negotiating plans during TAFTA/TTIP, while the EU will remain in the dark about the US intentions. That not only undercuts the European Commission's argument that releasing documents is not possible because they must remain secret during the negotiations -- they won't be -- it also gives the EU a huge incentive to insist on full transparency for the talks. That way, the EU negotiators would be able to see at least some US documents that currently are hidden from them, whereas the US would gain little that it didn't already know through more dubious means.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 2:13am

    Now why would the EC agree to that? They don't need to listen to anyone, really, plus it keeps any malfeasance under wraps, unlike transparency.

    And why aren't any NSA executive being hauled over the coals? Money. That's what's at the core of this and other, similar negotiations, it's all about the green.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 3:14am

    No economical spying here, please move on...

    Besides, we only spy on terrorists.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    arcan, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 5:06am

    but if they did that they wouldn't get any bribes from US officials and legacy industries.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 5:48am

    just think about a report that had quite a bit of coverage just a few days ago about the amount of corruption there is in the EU, it's member countries and the people working in the various governments. the cost to the EU is staggering, but no one gives a crap because they are doing the same as all politicians, lying through their teeth to get elected, then looking after no one except themselves. then put into the equation the USA entertainment industries which has had multiple new laws introduced and old laws revamped to be at their advantage as well as the USA pharma industries that have basically done the same thing. the only difference (at the moment, at any rate!) is the decisions made in favour of the pharma companies can cost many people their lives! no one is concerned about that either, as long as those industries maintain their vice like grips on anywhere and everywhere, regardless of the cost to the people and to progress!
    something that is always disregarded by these and other industries is that without the ordinary people, a whole lot of rich and famous people will be doing the jobs they think are beneath them at the moment! a bit of care is urged here, because it can become very messy, very quickly!

     

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  5.  
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    ECA (profile), Feb 6th, 2014 @ 5:51am

    THE only time

    The only time/reason to keep something quiet...
    SOMEONE is going to make money..

    Is many other countries, insted of installing Broadcast antennas ALL OVER the place, they send up a Sat. and broadcast to EVERYONE for free...

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 6:12am

    Here at the "We Have Your Back Corporation", we have a unique opportunity for you ,we resell low cost and nostalgic spines of every political member world wide , put them in jars and show them off to friends and family ,hold on to them for future generations , and have no worries these political types won't be needing them.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 6:53am

    "That's because the NSA is far larger, and far more expert than the EU agencies"

    Also the EU has 28 countries involved. That means they have to pass the info around a lot more people than the US has.

    Why dont they stop the negotiations? Because noone wants a political shitstorm, but the US is pushing really hard for it.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 6:56am

    Re:

    The worst pharma companies are from Israel, not the US.
    What a surprise...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Peter (profile), Feb 6th, 2014 @ 10:50am

    why the secrecy?

    If the US has detailed insights into EU negotiation positions and -tactics from the NSA anyway, what reason could the EU have to maintain secrecy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 6th, 2014 @ 11:28am

    Answer: ACTA.

    The US reps may have access to the EU positions and negotiation information, and obviously the EU people have access to it, but neither side wants to share the information with the most important group, the public, for fear that once the public sees that it's just more of the same, little more than a bunch of corporations and industry giants debating how best to screw over the public, they'll get a repeat of the ACTA protests that were so successful in shutting down that particular corporate wishlist/'treaty'.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    TAFTA/TTIP. Negotiators, being spied on?......enjoy your freedom

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 6th, 2014 @ 3:18pm

    Maybe the spy agencies are behind the not releasing it, after all, what advantage could they give their respective governments and at the same time "justify" their existence (sic), if the documents were freely released for every tom dick and harry to read...........that would mean a fair and even level playing would it not........oh no, we cant have that now

     

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  13.  
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    GEMont, Feb 7th, 2014 @ 12:40pm

    Hackers and Terrorists

    It is saddening to note that it is now imperative for members of the American public to work at cross purposes with their own Federal government in order to protect the freedoms of those living in other countries and indeed their own freedom as well.

    Discovering that the US Fed is by far the most dangerous "hacker" organization on earth, is only surpassed in shock value by the fact that the US fed is the most dangerous "terrorist" organization on earth.

    While it is obvious that the actions of the corporate controlled Federal Government of the USA are not unanimously approved of by the American People, the results of these actions will stain the credibility of all Americans globally as long as the crimes of their government continue.

    And what is probably worse in the long run, these actions will give other criminal governments the ability to become even more oppressive, aggressive and intrusive since the US has disqualified itself from holding any moral high ground.

    It is in fact, highly unlikely that the US will ever again hold the moral high ground, and Americans in general will likely be held in contempt and distrusted for the actions of the government by the global public far into the future.

    If any lesson is to be learned from this, it is simply that government must be 100% transparent to the public, or risk the near certainty of power abuse by its members.

    Or perhaps the lesson here is that government itself is obsolete and needs to be replaced with something else which is actually of the people, by the people and for the people.

    It is patently obvious that the Federal Government of the USA is none of the above.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Feb 8th, 2014 @ 12:43am

    Surface area

    That's because the NSA is far larger, and far more expert than the EU agencies.


    That might be true, and it might be a factor, but it's by no means the major one.

    The major one is that the EU is large and diverse and will need to consult among its member nations to construct its negotiating positions, which will require sending lots of information across large distances to various nations' capitals.

    Meanwhile, the US can formulate its positions and responses in a single smoky back room in some obscure corner of Washington, DC.

    This gives the US a very small surface area for EU intelligence agencies to attack, and the EU a very large surface area for the NSA to attack.

    Insistence on total transparency by the EU would be one way for the EU to substantially level the playing field.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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