Culture clash in the wake of Snowden revelations

While almost nobody was pleased to learn the extent of surveillance by the United States National Security Agency (NSA), the extent to which the European Union countries were outraged cannot be underestimated. Europeans are by no means unfamiliar with spying and know all modern nation-states engage in it to protect their own interests. On the other hand, with such examples as the East German Stasi and its ilk in the Soviet sphere of influence before them, the EU countries are particularly touchy about pervasive activity aimed at compiling comprehensive dossiers on the innocent along with the guilty in defiance of such things as the presumption of innocence, judicial oversight and legal guarantees of personal freedoms.

The discovery that NSA spying extended even to eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkell’s personal cellphone, not to mention on delegates to the G8 and G20 summits in Canada in 2010, for reasons not easily justified by American “national security” claims has predictable consequences, not least among them a widespread desire to discover the extent to which laws and treaties have been breached and a determined effort to prevent further incursions into personal privacy, national sovereignty and trade secrets.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the EU countries, and especially reunified Germany, have realized the unwisdom of relying on corporate America to handle their sensitive electronic data. A recent proposal calls for a consortium of European technology companies to make that reliance unnecessary. That is, to ensure the mechanisms by which European data can be kept and transmitted where European laws hold sway, rather than entrusted to Microsoft, Google, Amazon and the rest whose actions are dictated by American business practices and (at least in theory) governed by US law.

It is not surprising either than this proposal is not welcomed by US providers of data management services. Anyone who has followed negotiations of international trade agreements could have predicted that US-based companies such as SAP consider the idea of stricter control of European data by a European consortium an unwarranted interference with the free market.

In a recent story by republished in the UK-based The Register
(, a spokesman for SAP, one of the larger American multinationals providing businesss technology, suggested that it could be banned as an anti-competitive measure and recommended that instead the EU should trust that (mostly much) smaller European firms competing with the foreign giants on the basis of privacy promises would enable the free market to guard against systemic warrantless surveillance by a nation which has not only demonstrated no respect for its own laws on such things but has already been caught tapping the Internet backbones and constructing a facility with the capacity to collect and store as much data as the entire planet is likely to produce in several decades.

One cannot help but wonder at what point the US-led “free market” decided that the governments and citizens of the world’s democracies should no longer be free to make decisions on matters of human rights and freedoms. From the evidence at hand, a good many Americans share the feelings of most Europeans in these matters, and the “clash of cultures” in such matters as surveillance by the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about is not really between that complex (and the politiciasn they sponsor) and the rest of us.