NSA Spying Revelations Start To Cause Outrage In Europe; China Next?

from the just-the-beginning dept

News that the NSA has unfettered access to most of the leading Internet services inevitably has an international dimension. After all, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and the rest of the Naughty Nine all operate around the world, so spying on their users means spying on people everywhere. Indeed, as Mike explained earlier today, the NSA is actually trying to quell criticism by selling this news as something that purely concerns non-Americans (although that’s clearly rubbish.)

Despite that fact, the European Commission’s Home Affairs department made the following reply to the journalist David Meyer when he asked them for a statement of the latest revelations:

We do not have any comments. This is an internal U.S. matter.

It was only later that it realized this was a ridiculous position, and issued the following statement:

We have seen the media reports and we are of course concerned for possible consequences on EU citizens’ privacy. For the moment it is too early to draw any conclusion or to comment further. We will get in contact with our U.S. counterparts to seek more details on these issues.

That dismissive initial comment followed by the rather feeble backtracking suggests that the European politicians have not yet realized how big a problem this is going to be for them, as well as for the US authorities. For example, The Guardian has confirmed today that the UK has been tapping into Prism for a while:

The UK’s electronic eavesdropping and security agency, GCHQ, has been secretly gathering intelligence from the world’s biggest internet companies through a covertly run operation set up by America’s top spy agency, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal.


It says the British agency generated 197 intelligence reports from Prism in the year to May 2012 — marking a 137% increase in the number of reports generated from the year before. Intelligence reports from GCHQ are normally passed to MI5 and MI6.

Already, one Labour MP, Tom Watson, has said that he will table questions in the House of Commons next week, and it seems likely that others will be demanding to know how much the UK government knew of this pervasive spying activity, what information it received — and what it gave in return.

Another European asking questions is Peter Schaar, Germany’s federal commissioner for data protection, who told David Meyer the following:

Given the large number of German users of Google, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft services, I expect the German government… is committed to clarification and limitation of surveillance.

He then went on to make an important connection:

In addition, the reports illustrate the importance of strengthening the European data protection law. The dilatory attitude of the EU Interior and Justice Ministers towards the Privacy Policy reform package is a completely wrong signal.

As Techdirt has reported, new data protection rules currently being discussed by the European Union have come under fierce attack by US companies, who want them watered down. For the most part, they were succeeding, but it’s possible that the revelations that the very same companies who have lobbied so hard to neuter EU regulations have allowed the NSA to access customer data may start to tip the balance the other way.

Some want to go further than simply strengthening data protection in Europe. The European privacy advocate, Alexander Hanff, is calling for the US’s “safe harbor” status to be revoked. Here’s why that matters:

The European Commission’s Directive on Data Protection went into effect in October of 1998, and would prohibit the transfer of personal data to non-European Union countries that do not meet the European Union (EU) “adequacy” standard for privacy protection. While the United States and the EU share the goal of enhancing privacy protection for their citizens, the United States takes a different approach to privacy from that taken by the EU.

In order to bridge these differences in approach and provide a streamlined means for U.S. organizations to comply with the Directive, the U.S. Department of Commerce in consultation with the European Commission developed a “Safe Harbor” framework and this website to provide the information an organization would need to evaluate — and then join — the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor program.

Without Safe Harbor status, no US company would be allowed to transfer personal data about Europeans out of the EU. It’s unlikely that the European Commission would contemplate such a drastic move, but it’s an indication of how high feelings are starting to run — and this is only a few hours after the NSA story broke.

Mind you, however bad the situation is in Europe, President Obama can take comfort from the fact that it could be worse:

Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, appears to have an iPhone. And now, according to reports, US intelligence agencies may be spying on iPhone users through a secret data harvesting program. Does that mean there’s a possibility that the US is spying on the private messages of China’s first lady?

If confirmed, I don’t think that’s going to go down too well with the Chinese government

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Comments on “NSA Spying Revelations Start To Cause Outrage In Europe; China Next?”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Congrats, Obama!

The Peter Principle leaves out managements decision to promote, ergo is false. It is always managements fault, good, bad, or indifferent; management made it happen (or not). Argue that another time.

In this case, the managers in question are the American sheeple who blindly follow their (insert here: minister, shop steward, father in-law, religious err political party line, etc.) and do not think about unintended consequences.

Liz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Imperialistic tendencies? I must have missed something in the past 20 years. Can you tell us which countries the United States has claimed and annexed as part of the nation?

I think you may want to consider a better word choice. The rest of what you stated is sadly true, but I don’t think it falls under the notion of empire building.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The word choice may have been poor, but what I meant was how the US seems to have habit of telling every other country around what they should do, what laws they should pass, treats countries and people that break or ignore US laws as criminals, but ignores laws or rulings from other countries, and so on.

Put plainly, the US is very much a country that considers it’s own wants or laws to be applicable globally, and only pays attention to the laws in other countries when it cares to, when it wants them changed to benefit US corporate interests, or when it is forced to.

Liz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Put plainly, the US is very much a country that considers it’s own wants or laws to be applicable globally, and only pays attention to the laws in other countries when it cares to, when it wants them changed to benefit US corporate interests, or when it is forced to.

It’s easy to place blame on a single entity. Curse not just American Government and American Businesses.

When the U.S. had been called to become the world’s political enforcer since 1938, the government fell into a pattern of behavior. During the Cold War the U.S. and its allies were a counterweight to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union fell, the Eastern Block nations gained independence, and the global dynamic changed. The only Superpower left was the United States. However the role as some sort of global enforcer and international nanny remained. Called upon by allies and those governments who needed assistance in the past few decades. This put the country into an unenviable position that whatever decision the government took in international affairs, they would be cursed by others whether they acted or not. If they sent aid to a foreign land, it was seen as meddling in international affairs. If they refused to send aid, it was seen as being greedy and wasteful and the people were painted in a negative light.

The corporatism that you mention specifically isn’t just relegated to the United States, but to the governments of every country where they operate. It is because of this corporate action that other countries such as Brazil, India and China have gained such prominence and are catching up to the rest of the developed world to become a major influence in the economic and political sphere around the globe. The “cheap labor” offered by the people who live in these areas learned about First World wages, benefits, and materialism. The international trade led them to copy the latest tech, utilize the newest research, and communicate globally with their peers around the world. They wanted to share “The American Dream.” Except they wanted to have it in their own homelands.

These issues are endemic to the developed nations as a whole. These multinational corporations hold more assets outside of the United States than they do within. And they use that money and influence on every government where they have a foothold. They act in their own self interests, use lobbying, bribery, advertising, PR Campaigns, and whatever other legal and extralegal measures that are available to them to change policy by way of industry trade groups and associations. They don’t want governmental control. They just want to make ever more money on the international stage at the cost of competition and emerging market disruptions. Changing a few laws here and there for their benefit are just a means to secure their streams of income. When a corporation works on an international level, then those are the laws that they need to mold to suit their needs.

With the socio-economic changes that have been happening around the world, other countries catching up, and the United States seeming to stagnate or fall behind in several measurable areas (financial, educational, social, etc.), it’s easy to target the one that appears to be on the way out of the spotlight. The power vacuum that was left behind by the Soviet Union is being filled by several distinct entities with their own ambitions each. Latin America rising with Brazil at the lead. Communist China which is at odds with the practices of more Capitalist nations (especially in Asia). Dwindling resources, greater hunger for food, oil and coal from developing nations and the growing importance of the Middle East and Africa to the global stage – along with their religious and social turmoil that permeates the rest of the world as a whole.

This is the effect of Globalism. Humanity is experiencing a painful growth spurt as we move into the 21st century. And the United States is not fully to blame.

out_of_the_blue says:

NSA may take the blame for the "Naughty Nine'

I just searched for “Naughty Nine”, and you seem to have coined it right here. Sure to make your fame just as “Streisand Effect” did for Masnick, and “masnicking” will do for me.

Anyhoo, distant acroynm NSA could well be intended take the blame away from the brand names on-your-desk and in-your-hands. Distance steals focus, so the anger now rising will soon dissipate.

Besides that, there are shills and fanboys such as “Zakida Paul” trotting out excuses for corporations, instead of blaming them along with rest of the criminals in the surveillance state. — But if you get big bucks, there are big responsibilities. Don’t let The Rich escape their fair share of blame, plenty enough to go around.

The US has plenty of prison space and more being built, so we can just clear out some dopers then toss NSA and Google’s execs plus all other corporate and gov’t officials who’ve violated the people’s Constitution into jail.

Mum alAthin (user link) says:

We told you

Hello, US people, we told you so from eastern Europe. This thing was unevitable for us. We lived here with “security” (for classes, not for masses, of course) so long, we cannot expect anything else. Please read about privacy, please use anything out of Approved Authority. Do anything. The Internet shall be free, but without your help, it wil be nothing.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We told you

Thank you for posting. I, and I hope a lot of others hear you.

Here in the US we went through some similar situations, but it was so long ago, that too many people are now comfortable in their lack of awareness. With luck, these revelations will wake up the sleeping proletariat.

With even more luck, and some judicious organizing and planning by folks with no iron in the fire except the well being of a nation, we will adjust and bring freedom over security back into the forefront.

Anonymous Coward says:

"direct access to our servers"

Comparing the “denials” from various companies, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo all explicitly use exactly the same phrase,when they deny they provide the government with “direct access to our servers.” I take this a tacit admission that there is indirect access, whether cloning or splitting is irrelevant. And of course, a court order from a secret court under secret laws is still a court order. It’s not very democratic, through.

PlayNicely says:

Re: "direct access to our servers"

good observation. this suggests that there might be a common source for this phrase. to me it looks like the government not only makes companies help them spy on people, it also tells them how to spin this once it leaks.

secret court orders, secret laws and secret interpretations of the law are the very opposite of democratic. the word is overused in this context but they establish a tyranny to which there is no appeal. public discourse is essential for a democracy to function, but what i don’t know and am not allowed to know i can’t protest.

PlayNicely says:

Not worth it.

they keep saying prism is necessary for maintaining security. you know what? i’d rather accept a risk 1 in 100,000 each year of randomly being killed by a terrorist attack than yielding this much power to the state. i really mean it. this last tiny bit of security (tiny in comparison to many another risk we happily accept) simply is not worth it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not worth it.

You are way off on the odds.
If terrorists pulled of a 9/11 EVERY YEAR your odds of being a victim a 1 in 100, 000. Even at these odds your still more likely to die in a car accident.


So when will the Transportation SAFETY Administration do something about all these car related deaths each year? Terrorists killed a few thousand on 9/11, tens of thousands die EVERY YEAR in car accidents Clearly the TSA priorities are out of whack with reality.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not worth it.

The Joker nailed the reason behind the differing levels of fear to threat ratios:


Car crashes, plane crashes, deaths from smoking and drinking, heck, even common household accidents… those kill countless more people on average than terrorism ever has, yet people don’t bat an eye at them, all because they are ‘normal’ threats to life and limb, people are used to them and accept them as just risks of life.

Terrorism on the other hand is not only not ‘normal'(for most countries), it’s something people have no control over.

Don’t want to die in a car crash? Don’t drive.

Don’t want to die from smoking? Don’t smoke.

Don’t want to die from a terrorist attack… it’s the uncertainty and randomness that makes people treat what boils down to such a comparatively minor threat as such a huge deal, bigger than actual threats to life in general.

And of course the various governments fanning the flames, treating it as this massive ‘you’re all going to die unless you do exactly as we tell you to!‘-level threat and causing more and more panic and fear for their own gains certainly doesn’t help.

anonymouse says:


Seriously after all of the complaining and American congress attacking Huawei for their supposed spying and this comes up, seriously i don’t know what is worse the fact that they have been so overzealous in attacking foreign companies that are a threat to their greed or the fact that while they were complaining about a non infringing company they were aware that American companies have been doing exactly what they blame others of doing.

Damn i would not be surprised if the EU starts investing in their own search engine and social media type sites and starts blocking American websites from doing any business in the EU.

China already blocks a lot of American sites and yes China is monitoring it’s citizens, but it is a different thing when your own country is doing it to you and a foreign country.

Anonymous Coward says:

considering the number of times that China has been blamed recently for spying on the USA, it pales in the light of what the USA government is doing to it’s own people and those of the EU. how can this sort of covert operation be justified? it is making enemies of the very people supposed to be protected. it is making people trust almost everyone else except their own governments. then, for the USA to have the audacity to want CISPA brought into law and the UK want ‘THE SNOOPERS CHARTER’ brought in, because of how desperately it/they are needed is taking the piss out of the people. neither of these bills would do a fucking thing as far as preventing terrorism is concerned. if the murders and bombings that have happened over the years haven’t been detected by what is in force atm, another bit of surveillance would have done nothing! the whole aim of such laws is to enable law enforcement to be able to spy on the people as much as and as often as possible. when governments are so scared that they take these sort of measures against their own citizens, they should not be in government at all!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Wait a minute … what does China have to be upset about?
Honor amongst thieves?

As bad as this may or may not be … it’s not like these other players have not perpetrated similar escapades in the name of whatever bullshit themselves – so them wagging the finger is hypocritical at best. They think it is possible to convince others they have taken the high road?

Wow – bullshit mountain

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Not worth it.

Yep, (pol) pot calling the kettle black.

Of course none of these countries have any right to finger-wagging. But neither has the USA and its president Obama Bush (you know, new Bush, same as old Bush).

But there are people that have every right to criticize the USA, and foremost are its own citizens. And people from wherever else they are — its not that they don’t realise their own government is up to no good, and they criticise this as well, but having a government on your own that just produces fascist shite doesn’t change the fact that the US-government does fascist shite as well, and even tries to export it all over the world.

MD2000 says:

Does It Really Matter?

It’s well-known that anything the NSA is forbidden to do, it can get “friends” to do in other countries. Spy on US citizen? Not allowed, but CSE or MI6 will do so, and in return the NSA will collect data about Canadian or UK citizens where those agencies are forbidden to do so. They are forbidden to collect intelligence – but what if it is handed to them wholesale by others?

According to a book by a disgruntled CSE employee, the NSA even loaned Canada the tech to do these tricks back in the 90’s… (Gizmos to read and record all traffic going through a Telco microwave tower, for example.) Think they ever stopped lending their more obvious tech to friends?

The major advantage of the current situation – it has riled up both sides. The Liberals are shocked, nay, shocked! that anyone would collect such data, and now that Obama is in the White House, the Fox-like apologists for GW Chimp II are no longer obliged to slavishly ignore all those constitutional and rights violations they started.

Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope for freedom and democracy after all…

horse with no name says:

EU expansionism?

We have seen the media reports and we are of course concerned for possible consequences on EU citizens’ privacy.

I have to laugh. You chuckleheads here all get uppity about the US going after people outside of the US for breaking the law, but you seem to support the EU pretty much worrying about the privacy of their citizens, when their citizens are communicating via US internet services.

Do they honestly think they can dictate how US companies operate?

Careful how you answer this one, Kim Dotcom will likely go to jail based on your answer.

Anonymous Coward says:

So what the hell were they thinking?

So what the hell were they thinking?

I think Stewart Baker (writing at Volokh) is on the right track. Expanding on that, I arrive at the following:

1. The US government acts like it is at war. The US has a long history of bad laws in times of war or perceived crisis, from Alien and Sedition (1798) through Korematsu (1944), to the present.

2. The US has a big advantage over their “enemies”? when it comes to Big Data. In their context, it makes sense to exploit this advantage — they can do forms of analysis not technically possible for some others. It’s (rhetorically) a strategic decision by a wartime government.

3. The dispersal of Big Data across a whole bunch of sites makes it hard to exploit this advantage. Under the old set-up, the US government had jump through the relevant hoops to accumulate the relevant data. This was slower, more cumbersome, and partially negates the strategic advantage advanced by the logic of 2, above.

4. A change in model might help this problem (ht Baker). The logic runs: Instead of getting authorisation and then collecting the data, we’ll reverse the steps — we’ll collect all the data (with appropriate legal ass-covering), and then only mine it when we have a specific target and a specific authorisation. That way, we’ll still have the appropriate due-process elements, but we’ll negate the problems of dispersal (above, 3), and gain the strategic advantages (gestured at in 2, above).

5. The obvious problems are twofold:
5a: This creates a system that is subject to abuse, and will inevitably be abused.
5b: The strategic switch has never been explicitly debated and approved by Congress, and has massively inadequate oversight. As noted by others, a system that relies on secret courts, secret interpretations of laws, and untrustworthy oversight mechanisms is undemocratic, and a betrayal of the founding ideals of the United States.

6. The obvious solution would be to have had an open and apparent debate on the matters, perhaps authorising a similar system that incorporates sufficiently rigorous and transparent mechanisms for oversight. I expect it would have been approved (they voted for the Patriot Act), but that relies on trust in the democratic system — and it appears that elements of the US government no longer trust democratic processes to produce their desired outcomes.

As an aside, note that Greenwald is hinting he has more documents, and Schneier
has appealed for more leaks
. I don’t think this is over.

horse with no name says:

Re: So what the hell were they thinking?

If you cannot understand that the US is very much at war right now, then you have missed the last decade. Muslim expansionism and their willingness to use your very “freedom” against you is a powerful weapon.

Over the last decade we have seen more and more countries turned to dictatorial, segregationist, sexist, and agressive muslim enclaves, with a few select religious leaders as front men for a a longer term play to get the entire world converted to being Muslim and for us to be subject to the laws of their religion, over our free choice.

If you cannot understand that this is a serious war, than you have really missed so much.

Claire Rand says:


So any data collected by a US company could be handed over.

Any company could be “asked” to log anything they can, then hand it over?

Any company could be told to do this, and not talk about it.

Isn’t a US company launching a games console that needs a net connection, and has a camera and mike the is required to be attached?

And people will willing pay money to have that in their homes?

PlayNicely says:

Re: Implications

very good point. i think we should try to raise awareness about the implications of prism + xbox one. as of yet i am not aware of an article on a gaming site that discusses this.

interestingly it is not the tyrannical government that has to force the tools of surveillance onto the population. people happily do that themselves and are even paying for it.

PWGuy says:

We have the choice

The issue for me is one of principle.
“At any cost” seems to be the mantra coming out of government. The war on terror or copyright or what ever the terms being used to collect and data-mine information could easily be replaced with terms for other information gathering purposes and this is the slippery slope.
Call me a realist but I don’t believe terror is every going to end, there’s just not enough land mass for everyone to be free to live the lives they want on this planet. There will always be someone or groups willing to push societal boundaries for what ever their cause.
I don’t want to live in fear government or terror but at least we have an option to prevent one from controlling our behavior. – Vote!

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