The recent NSA leaks have awakened many Europeans to the “disturbing” privacy violations regularly committed by the US that their own governments facilitated and may have benefited from, Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, told RT.
European lawmakers have publicly condemned US authorities after Edward Snowden, a former CIA technician and contracted NSA employee, leaked classified documents revealing invasive and indiscriminate US surveillance on citizens both foreign and domestic.
The blockbuster disclosure has also put members of the European Union in the hot seat, with citizens demanding to know if similar programs were monitoring them. Jann Philipp Albrecht, a German politician and member of the European Parliament, said “mass surveillance is not what we want” before scheduling an evaluation of the EU’s 20-year-old data protection laws for later this summer.
RT: We’ve heard a lot of discontent and even outrage from various European officials. But what have the British said about this scandal?
Jim Killock: Obviously many of the newspapers, particularly The Guardian, who broke the story, are outraged and I have to say Open Rights group supporters are extremely outraged as well. I feel there is a lot of public discontent but the truth is that the government has been extremely complacent about all this. William Hague brushed off all of the concerns they have been expressing, saying that the British did nothing illegal, that any information that the Americans have shared with them had been done under all of the relevant laws. The problem is of course that there are, more or less, no relevant laws and the government has got an extremely free hand in the kind of information from foreign sources that it uses so that is of very little comfort to us.
RT: EU officials have demanded assurances that Europeans will not be spied on. Will they ever know if the U.S. is breaking their promise?
JK: Well, as far as the US Constitution goes, there is more or less nothing that they can do. The Americans apply no privacy rights to non-US nationals. They claim that, essentially, anyone who is a foreign person can be spied on by them if there are natural interests in doing so. So basically if you’re a business that competes with American strategic businesses, if you are somebody protesting American foreign policy, if you’re a journalist that breaks a story like that about PRISM, and if you’re foreign then the American government believes it has got a right so spy on you. It’s extremely broad and I don’t think there’s much they can say to Europeans that currently will mean much at all.
RT: Some reports claim the UK not only knew about America’s PRISM program for years, but also had access to it. How come they’re not facing the same level of criticism?
JK: I think it is facing a good deal of criticism within the UK. I think there’s been less within parliament than there should be. I think a lot of politicians are being very acquiescent and they haven’t yet grasped, completely, what is going on here. But I think there is a lot of criticism out in society at large. What is a bit disturbing about the attitude of our government at the moment is that they are really resting on the laurels of the Americans. They think, ‘Well, we’ve got a close relationship with the Americans, we’re benefiting from the intelligence we get from them, so let’s not rattle the cage too much.’ I think that doesn’t apply, for instance, to the German government or many other European governments who have a more respectful relationship with their own laws and expect to respect the privacy rights of their citizens, and are really quite shocked at what the Americans are doing. The Germans, in particular, they’ve had such experience with what surveillance really means for their society that they do their absolute best from stopping it from happening within Germany. So when they find out that the Americans are spying on them pretty much more than any other European country then of course they’re going to be very shocked and angry.
RT: What do these revelations say about the scale of global surveillance?
JK: I think what it tells us is our data can be accessed reasonably easily when its in a particular country and the United States is where most of our data lives if we use Google, Facebook Microsoft products. That data ends up in America. But I think the real lesson is you can do this properly. The Americans are not doing this properly. The Americans have written secretive laws which say if they want to spy on our data in American data centers then they can do it in secret without telling the public who they’re working with, how their systems work, or how many of these they issue. If you have that kind of secretive process with secret courts deciding what can and can’t be done then you have a completely unaccountable system. You can badger and threaten politicians into agreeing into all kinds of things because if you say to a politician, ‘This is your choice: spy on some citizens who we think are guilty or deal with terrorist atrocities,’ they will choose the spying. That’s why it has got to be out in the open, with courts.