Many see only the threats surrounding the collection of data by the U.S. National Security Administration, completely forgetting the good and solid reasons to keep data streams in the government’s sight.

It was a field day for all privacy groups and doomsayers who primarily see a superhuman, monstrous threat in the digital transition. Finally — a top-secret American (!) authority that builds a huge top-secret data silo in the American (!) desert and collects our data, completely unfettered.

Every telephone call, e-mail exchange, Skype conversation — everything. They have always predicted it, and now it has come about. That is, if one follows the critics, designed purely so that a devious government can better monitor us and keep us in line and so that American (!) firms who only think of making money can unscrupulously exploit us. When one discusses the Internet in Germany, the word “privacy” will turn up in the second sentence at the latest. If one points out the many advantages of digitization, one is considered hopelessly uncritical and simplistic.

In the forefront of the dark deeds in societal discourse are, naturally, the American (!) giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and the whole shady rest, about which our parents warned us. Serious, dry-as-bone newspapers suddenly write colorfully about “Internet spy attacks,” “total surveillance” and “threats to our freedom.”

Examining Data Streams for Abnormalities

One moment! Is it still permitted to briefly mention that along with these apparently long-yearned-for horror scenarios, there could be a few good reasons for keeping suspicious data streams in the government's sight? To be on the safe side, many German news programs have completely refrained from mentioning arguments in this direction at all.

I would be pretty thankful to my country if it could prevent a cluster bomb from exploding next to me on the train platform or in my daughter’s school. And it makes me nervous that in Germany, one-third of the custodians of the constitution have no official Internet connection. They cannot be sorting dusty mountains of files all day long.

Is it permitted to briefly mention that the algorithms authorities use to examine the gigantic data streams for suspicious activities are not interested in your little infidelity or the telephone call with Aunt Hildegard, and that this course of action is apparently legal according to American law? In spite of many clues on the Internet, they could not prevent the attack in Boston.

If it is permitted, we can perhaps discuss in a somewhat more relaxed manner where exactly the sensible boundary between protecting and policing lies. Naturally, the government cannot dispense with every hard-won basic and human right in the name of fighting terror. Naturally, we must closely watch whether the government is abandoning its duty of care and turning against its own citizens. In any case, this scandal in the U.S. will cause people to deal with their data and information on the Internet more consciously in the future.

And after Barack Obama, perhaps for a change we will simply ask the Russians, Chinese and Iranians about the topic of surveillance state and Internet. That would certainly make for interesting answers.