On Oct. 23, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called President Barack Obama to discuss new allegations that the U.S. has been monitoring her personal phone for years. Chancellor Merkel and other German officials expressed outrage over this information, which was a product of leaks from fugitive Edward Snowden.
The information details an NSA program that has infuriated Spanish, French and German allies with reports that millions of phone records across Europe have been snooped on by the U.S.
One wonders why Merkel had to call Obama at all in order to express her discontent – in theory, she could have been talking to anyone and he still would have gotten her message. Nevertheless, her spokesman revealed that she told Obama that she “unequivocally disapproves of such practices and sees them as completely unacceptable.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “The U.S. National Security Agency intercepted the communications of the German chancellor. … The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring, and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor.”
That’s not a denial of the allegations. That’s a half-hearted attempt at damage control.
The next day, Merkel traveled to Brussels to attend a summit of European Union leaders. In public remarks, Merkel stated, “Spying between friends, that’s just not done.” She cautioned that trust between the two nations would need to be rebuilt.
After the summit, French President Francois Hollande stated that France and Germany are looking to create a resolution with the United States, saying, “We set a deadline until the end of the year.”
Additionally, the prime ministers of Holland, Belgium and Sweden all chimed in with remarks on the emerging scandal. France, Spain and Germany have each summoned their respective U.S. ambassadors to explain the claims further.
The EU Summit was originally supposed to cover topics regarding the economy and immigration. Instead, it offered the perfect vehicle for world leaders to voice their disapproval of their cocky and clumsy ally across the pond, which is us.
I know it begs the question: Aren’t these countries our allies? Why are we spying on them? It’s a question that more Americans need to be asking about our government.
It’s important to note that spying is, and has long been, an important part of our national defense. Since World War II, it has been essential to have critical information about the movements and strategies of other world powers. However, the U.S. is enjoying a historically peaceful period with its allies in Europe. Is it possible for us to be friends with them without reading their diaries every time their back is turned?
The NSA, in my opinion, can be a valuable agency. I think it’s essential that we have the means to access sensitive data in dire situations, for the same reason I think it is prudent to employ a standing army in this country. The world we live in demands that we take measures to defend ourselves.
9/11 comes to mind. Many citizens would have gladly given up some of their phone privacy in the days leading up to the attack if they had known it might stop it.
However, we must be careful when we place an undue value on safety. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
The question is, then, whether or not the NSA has overstepped its bounds here. I believe it has.
At the very least, it has damaged our image abroad at a time when government shutdowns and an inability to manage our finances has already created concern in Europe over our very sanity.
Perhaps more frightening is the fact that our citizenry is becoming more and more complacent with the loss of its privacy and the privacy of others.
We do it in the name of safety, but no government program can keep us safe all the time, every time. There’s only one Savior for this world, and it’s not the NSA.
“The U.S. is reviewing the ways that we gather intelligence,” Carney said during the press conference, “To ensure that we properly balance the security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
I’d say it’s about time.