Three Months After Snowden’s NSA Revelations, Europe Has Moved On

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague addresses the media in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, on Sept. 16, 2013.

When Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, disclosed details about some of the clandestine electronic surveillance programs run by the intelligence agencies of the United States government in June, it was widely seen as one of the biggest intelligence leaks in American history. The Guardian, the British paper Snowden leaked the information to, saw record surges in web traffic as it published his exposés. Its main article on Edward Snowden, in which the paper declared that Snowden “will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers,” has become the most popular article ever read on the website, with over 3.7 million page impressions and counting according to the Guardian.

But, three months later, it’s difficult to see how consequential Snowden’s revelations have actually been. Despite immediate and widespread interest from the news media and diplomatic backlash from some parts of the world (mainly from foreign officials who found out that the U.S. had been intercepting their communications), the allegations of widespread spying conducted through the NSA’s PRISM program have not become the subject of any successful legislative efforts in Congress–an initial attempt in July to cut the NSA’s funding for its phone metadata program fell flat after a narrow defeat. And in some parts of the world, responses beyond the immediate surprise caused by the revelations have been particularly muted, with some British and French politicians suggesting that there was nothing in the leaks to cause the general public any concern. Some politicians, such as Conservative Member of Parliament David Davis, questioned if there was adequate oversight of intelligence operations. But in general, Europeans have shrugged and moved on.

Documents leaked by Snowden revealed that in Germany the nation’s intelligence agencies were working closely with the NSA on allowing the Americans to monitor Internet traffic, e-mails and telephone calls of German citizens. The German foreign intelligence agency, the BND, falls directly under the Chancellor’s office, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has denied any knowledge of the arrangement. Was there national outrage at the collusion, in a country still highly sensitive to issues of surveillance and state-control? On the contrary, although Merkel faced protests about the NSA leaks during her recent re-election campaign she won a larger share of the vote than she had in her previous two victories.

In Britain, where one of its three intelligence bodies, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has allegedly been running what Snowden called “the largest program of suspicion-less surveillance in human history” which aims to collect all online and telephone traffic, the debate has been quieter still. This is despite the outrage expressed by free speech groups and high-profile writers such as Stephen Fry, who recently lent his name to a letter addressed to European leaders to take a stand against spying by U.S. and British intelligence agencies.

“It’s astonishing to see how many Britons blindly and uncritically trust the work of their intelligence service,” writes journalist Christoph Scheuermann in a commentary for the German paper  Der Spiegel. British journalist Henry Porter, writing in the Guardian, is also surprised by the response: “All summer I have been puzzling over the lack of reaction in Britain to the Snowden revelations about U.S. and U.K. communications surveillance, a lack that at some moments has seemed even more remarkable than the revelations themselves.”

John Kampfner, a British journalist and former chief executive of the U.K.-based civil liberties campaign group, Index on Censorship, says that the British reaction has been informed by an underlying trust in the government, one which has bred “a sense of anaesthetized comfort. What’s the problem when you have a nice smiling Queen and James Bond is popular?” Studies have shown that since the 1990s, support for civil liberties in Britain have declined as increasing numbers of people have erred towards a tougher stance on law and order, particularly when the issue is presented as a choice between individual freedoms and preventing terrorism.

In the aftermath of the revelations some politicians were swift to assure the public that the data-mining operations run by intelligence agencies are not an issue people should be concerned about. William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, told the BBC in June: “The net effect is that if you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and personal life, you have nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the content of your phone calls or anything like that.”

Kampfner says that Hague, when he spoke to British parliamentarians about GCHQ’s activities, got a fairly easy ride as other politicians failed to “pose him a single informed question.” He cites occasions where he has been in meetings with politicians who appear to be out of their depth on matters of the Internet and data surveillance: “It is often quite embarrassing how little they understand.” Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat MP who has campaigned on issues of protecting digital privacy, agrees with Kampfner’s suggestion that some MPs are unable to effectively scrutinise the legitimacy of the digital surveillance operations run by GCHQ and the NSA if “there is a general lack of understanding…about the way the Internet works. When those in power don’t understand the basics it’s very concerning”.

Claude Moraes, a British member of the European Parliament and the appointed liaison officer for the parliament’s inquiry into snooping, says that this is just “lazy stereotyping.” Moraes argues that on a European level at least, politicians have been well aware of issues of data privacy and spying even prior to the reporting on Snowden’s revelations. Intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Britain has been ongoing for decades, and prior to PRISM, the European Parliament published an in-depth report on Echelon, a global system for intercepting personal and commercial communications between the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Now that Snowden is living in relative obscurity in Moscow, the media interest in him has quieted down despite new stories continuing to emerge of the extent of the NSA’s spying. The European Parliament will publish a report into its enquiry before the end of the year. But it is yet to be determined whether its report and Snowden’s revelations will have the impact he hoped, or if it will become another footnote in the long history of clandestine spying operations.


The Snowden chronicles recently revealed that mankind has developed the capability to globally monitor connectivity and store without bandwidth constraint the constituent text, voice, video, and GPS coordinates of virtually every transaction; the archived data to be processed by algorithms yet to be imagined. Such is the propensity of mankind for Omniscience, albeit a synthetic Omniscience.

"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat" (Gen3:4-6).


Europe  did not   move  on only USA  has moved on.


@ClaudeMoraesMEP All Europeans have already long ago lost all hope that EU politicians would ever stand up against violation by the US.


People's attitudes appear to be "what we can't see can't hurt us."

What the NSA is doing is 'invisible' ... it's not like it's putting a camera in every room (including the bedroom) in everybody's houses.

Not many will have either the knowledge or the interest or the time to go deeply into Glenn Greenwald and others' articles based on Edward Snowden's revelations.

It's not as if Snowden has revealed that the world is going to run out of gasoline for the cars that people love so much. Or, horror of horrors ... that the world was going to run out of toilet paper or sanitary napkins or Huggies for those babies.

Nor has Snowden revealed any impending climate catastrophe that was going to take place by 2020 (like that depicted in the movie 2012 perhaps).

We are not in danger of running out of food ... at the for the folks in 'Europe'.

So, yes. People have chosen to react with a yawn to the NSA spying revelations.

People are probably justifying this to themselves something like this: "Look, it is not like thousands of kids dying in chemical attacks in Syria or the madness of war like that in Iraq, the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people."

Of course, people dying in bombings in Pakistan or Iraq mostly elicits a yawn from the news media .. and perhaps more importantly from the readers. Some 60 odd people dying in Mumbai similarly leads to near-zero coverage and near-zero interest even among people in India.

[Yes. Life is cheap in the third world.]

Of course, there are all those news such as about celebrities or politicians in Twitter trouble of various sorts. Marriages, divorces and babies. People also get worked up over racism as happened with the recent Indian-origin Miss America. Then, there will be the news of another 'gang rape' from India or a mass shooting in the United States.

Of course, all of these issues matter. Or, well, may be some of the celebrity news or Breaking Bad articles and Game of Thrones analyses may not matter.

But the spying revelations matter as well.

During the Cold War there were 60,000 nuclear warheads. That number has now gone down to less than 10,000.

We can dismantle things if we wish to. Let us dismantle all (or most) of the spying infrastructure under international/UN supervision.

Time to cut NSA and GCHQ (and others) down to 1/10th of their present size.


Europe has moved on, and it's starting with the quick easy win part : tackling Google, and soon targeting Facebook.

The US internet bluechips will be the first victims in Europe for the Snowden showdown.

Then, countries like Brasil will develop their own internet services, and sooner than later, they will build an alternative to ICANN.

The Snowden files are already unraveling the US dominance over the core internet.


Suppose you have an amendment to the Constitution that specifically prohibits warrantless eavesdropping on your own citizens. Now suppose that you have a 'cooperative arrangement' with a foreign government. 

Odd how the prohibitions against targeting your own countrymen abruptly disappears. If you aren't troubled, then you simply aren't paying attention.


This is a  pathetic attempt to put lipstick on a pig.  The US surveillance state has been exposed; the narrow vote to keep some elements in place was unthinkable prior to Snowden's disclosures.  The end will come to spying on citizens and the unfettered power of the US police/security state.  The first step was the exposure of the truth; the second step will be the gathering of an alliance of those who are opposed. That is already happening. The third step is the isolation of the US and the retraction of the security state as those former allies (e.g. Google, Apple, Germany) can long longer act as allies due to other commitments. The final step will be the defunding of many of the NSA programs.

The only unanswered question is: how ugly will the security state be to  its opponents as it is brought down. But make no mistake, brought down it will be.


All G-20 nations have active intelligence agencies that collect information, conduct surveillance, and perform analyses of data collected.  This fact is known by every head of state and their high-level staffs.  

The facts are: many political leaders, from the nations most vocal about NSA surveillance, routinely use analyses of surveillance and data collection, performed by their respective intelligence services, in their daily duties. 


@erich.friesen If the NSA is described as the Mubarak of the intelligence world. Then its functions will be brought down by a coalition of the willing as efficient as it. So the intelligence world cant stand living in pre spring Egypt with all these tourists ignorant of the real use of their pyramid fees. The possible pb is the divergence between civilians and the different military factions competing to protect them with legitimacy.