Trust no one, suspect everyone; that seems to be the NSA’s mantra. Since 2002, the agency has been tapping the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful political figure in Europe. The leaking of this information has sparked international outrage, illuminating the disturbing truth that no one is safe from spying—that no one has absolute privacy. With the advent of modern technology, espionage has run rampant. Spying on the German Chancellor, a key ally who poses no security threat to the country, only serves to highlight this spying craze and shake the faith of America’s allies. Merkel’s case shows that America needs to get its spying under control to maintain the trust of its allies.
Governments can justify spying to collect information about potential terrorists, but they should not, indeed cannot, justify spying on allied leaders who pose no threat to national security. It is, as Chancellor Merkel described, “a serious breach of trust.” The idea that she should call President Obama directly to inquire about the NSA’s spying program illustrates how little trust exists now between the two governments, not to mention the outrage of the German chancellor.
Rationally speaking, intelligence gathered from allied leaders like Merkel cannot be worth the risk of “severe damage for the U.S.’s relations with a foreign government,” as the documents leaked by Edward Snowden described. That is not to say that the United States must stop spying on its allies altogether. Indeed, all countries spy on one another. As former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner explained, “everyone is listening to everyone else.”
Merkel’s case is actually only the latest (though worst) in a string of international cases of espionage, committed by many different countries. For instance, the German news organization Spiegel published documents implicating Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency in a cyber attack on Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian telecoms company, to “enable better exploitation of Belgacom.” Le Monde also reported a few months ago that the French General Directorate for External Security has been collecting massive amounts of private information, just like the U.S. government. “The entirety of our communications are being spied on,” said the newspaper. “All of our e-mail messages, SMS messages, itemized phone bills and connections to Facebook and Twitter are then stored for years.”
However, the outrage of European nations sparked by the tapping of Chancellor Merkel’s phone hits a different note. It highlights just how widespread and invasive U.S. spying has become, to the point where allies must continuously look over their shoulders for the NSA. Indeed the U.S. government has shocked and frightened European counterparts with the extent of its espionage programs. Such spying deteriorates relations at a crucial time, when cooperation is key to thwarting terrorist activities around the world.
Thus, if the U.S. values its allies, it must negotiate agreements to end needless spying on them and rebuild the trust that has been lost. Already, Chancellor Merkel has demanded a ‘no spying’ agreement between America, France, and Germany. The U.S. should pledge to fulfill this agreement—repairing its relations with allies in the near future may depend upon this demonstration of good faith.
[Image Credit: http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/AP_angela_merkel_cell_phone_spying_jt_131024_16x9_992.jpg]