At Irregular Times, we have spent the last month focusing on the electronic surveillance network the National Security Agency has deployed against American citizens, and against the rest of the world as well. There’s another story that has been developed in parallel, however, as a consequence of the revelations that have come from whistleblower Edward Snowden: European nations too, have been building Big Brother surveillance systems to spy against their own citizens, and against foreign citizens, including Americans.
So, while the European Parliament has passed a resolution angrily demanding accountability from the United States, the same resolution also “expresses serious concern at the revelations relating to the alleged surveillance programmes run by Member States.”
The Obama Administration has cited European nations’ own excessive surveillance networks as a justification for the Big Brother systems developed by the U.S.A., arguing that spying against millions or even billions of innocent people is acceptable because other governments are doing it, too. This reaction is frighteningly evocative of the dynamic of weapons proliferation during the first half of the 20th century, when many nations justified their development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction by observing that everybody else was doing it.
I can see two possible nasty outcomes of this dynamic:
1. The world settles into a new arrangement, perceived as normal, in which every person’s phone calls, emails, and Internet usage is spied upon by multiple governments. The spying governments gain a feeling of security from this arrangement, but are constantly seeking new ways to intrude more into individuals’ lives, in a kind of surveillance arms race.
2. The world’s governments come into an agreement that, instead of competing against each other to build electronic spying systems, they will instead join forces, sharing data from their national surveillance networks to make Big Brother even bigger.
In neither scenario do we have the preservation of the right of privacy, to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. So, what we need, if we are to avoid these two scenarios, is another form of international cooperation – not of nations, but of activist individuals who are willing to take a stand against their own governments, demanding that the electronic surveillance systems like PRISM and Tempora are dismantled, and that the politicians who have maintained them are deposed and punished for their abuse of individuals’ fundamental human rights.