The latest chatter in internet policy circles is the PRISM story. PRISM is an alleged program in which the US National Security Agency obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other large internet companies. All the internet companies have denied knowledge of the program (although there is speculation that even if they knew, they legally can’t admit it).
In the context of the current study I’m working on, I was curious to see what the European reaction to this would be, and the New York Times indicates that they are worried:
Privacy is an emotional issue in Europe, where memories of state-sponsored snooping by communist and fascist regimes still linger.
Privacy is an emotional issue in Europe, where memories of state-sponsored snooping by communist and fascist regimes still linger. And so the revelation Thursday that the U.S. National Security Agency had obtained routine access to e-mail, Web searches and other online data from many of the biggest U.S. Internet companies — whose users stretch far beyond U.S. shores — prompted hand-wringing about America’s moral authority.
“If the U.S. complains about foreign governments spying and then it turns out it is doing the same thing — well, what are you complaining about?” said Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey, where anger over restrictions on civil liberties has fueled anti-government protests.
European privacy advocates said Friday that the disclosure of Prism could bolster the push for stricter data protection in the new laws, including a proposed “right to be forgotten,” which would let Internet users scrub unflattering online references to themselves.
There is that “right to be forgotten” being mentioned again. PRISM is the sort of thing that I imagine Europeans would think vindicates their position. Here is the German Chief Data protection public official, giving voice to European worries:
“The U.S. government must provide clarity regarding these monstrous allegations of total monitoring of various telecommunications and Internet services,” said Peter Schaar, German data protection and freedom of information commissioner.
“Statements from the U.S. government that the monitoring was not aimed at U.S. citizens but only against persons outside the United States do not reassure me at all,” he said.
I for one cannot imagine that such news would give leverage to Silicon Valley organizations lobbying in Brussels against stringent internet data protection legislation.