Masses are not taking to the streets over the National Security Agency spying affair. It was just not the kind of “Chernobyl moment” that creates a mass movement.
In about 40 cities in Germany, there were demonstrations against NSA monitoring. That is impressive, but only about 10,000 people in total took part in the protests. That is less brilliant; it is not only the heat that is responsible for this.
Many people find the notion scary that, at the least, connection data concerning German telecommunication was stored and evaluated for years, and likewise that the NSA had free access to our data on Facebook, Google and Amazon. In addition, conservatives are disturbed by the violation of German sovereignty and the embarrassingly helpless role of the federal government. Therefore, the NSA monitoring has justifiably become an election topic.
Nevertheless, the people are not taking to the street en masse. The exposure of the NSA programs was just not the kind of “Chernobyl moment” that creates a mass movement. We are now aware of the risk and fear the worst, yet the risk has not realized itself in its fullest severity.
What is missing for widespread outrage is an apparent misuse of the data or manifest consequences for the innocent. It would certainly be a mega-scandal if the NSA or German partners were to be caught intervening in German domestic affairs, for example, or if they infiltrated the Pirate Party to sow the seeds of discord. There would also be a huge scandal if harmless people were arrested only because the NSA computers had interpreted their harmlessness as an especially cunning cover.
That the U.S. collection of data is already inherently excessive — even for defense against terrorism — is apparently not yet enough for a mass movement. That is the insight from this weekend.