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Washington's Agent 007. A few thoughts…

The cryptofax system - questioned in the 2000s (Echelon) and in the information revealed by Spiegel and the Guardian (credit: Philips)
The cryptofax system – questioned in the 2000s (Echelon) and in the information revealed by Spiegel and the Guardian (credit: Philips)

(BRUSSELS2) The affair of spying on Europeans by the NSA - revealed by Spiegel and the Guardian - can leave one indifferent: it's “normal”, it's “old”. And Europe is a sieve anyway. It's a bit cynical and full of realpolitik. This is not entirely false. But it's a bit of a short thought... Because this affair is also an opportunity to reflect on Europe's current deficiencies: on a democratic, legal, economic and industrial level.

1° Is this normal? Indeed, the role of a spy service is… to spy. In this area, you certainly have to watch your “enemies”. But also take a look at his “allies”. If only to know if they are still reliable. Nothing beforehand abnormal. From there to trap diplomatic representations on one's own territory is a violation of diplomatic conventions. And that calls for a reaction. This is the very principle of pickpocketing. As long as it is not taken, it is allowed. Once caught, it’s a penalty. At least symbolically, even if we know he will do it again. It will therefore be necessary to define the height of this sanction, with regard to the United States. For exemple…

2° Is it old? Indeed, the document revealed by the Spiegel dates from 2010. And we can assume that the problem is already known and resolved. The opposite would be surprising and would suggest very serious flaws in the European security system. In the first case, there is no need for “clarification”, and therefore to wait… In the second case, it is relatively serious. Because this assumes that espionage has continued, for years, and using very proven methods, without reaction from the European institutions. The Echelon commission of inquiry, carried out in the European Parliament in the early 2000s, already revealed these attempts at entryism. Everything was already written...

3° Industrial and legal deficiencies? This affair reveals Europe's extreme technical dependence. Created in the United States, the main software and services existing on the Internet: search (Google), video (YouTube), social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), sales (Amazon), derivative products (Apple), etc. — not to mention software less known but just as used (encryption, online sales, blog, etc.), are American and depend largely on American legislation. This is an economic and legal problem, which must be resolved. The European Union must create and encourage a European “on line” industry. It must also enact its own rules, for consumers or data protection.

4° Democratic supervision? This affair also shows that for a good fifteen years, Europe has not managed to provide itself with a guardian of the protection of freedoms, sufficiently powerful and supported, to have a credible voice. A structure that can both protect citizens but also investigate in cases of its own initiative. This should be the role of the Fundamental Rights Agency or the Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). But they are not endowed with significant powers or resources. We cannot rely solely on the press to fulfill this role. This role should be assumed not by agencies – dependent on the executive – but by a permanent committee, an agency attached to the European Parliament, the legislative body.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).