Sometimes it’s refreshing to hear how clearly some people express themselves. James Clapper is one of those people. The Director of National Intelligence told a congressional committee in Washington that of course it was helpful to eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of allies because the bottom line was the United States wanted to know what they really thought. His colleague, NSA Chief Keith Alexander, added he assumed that the Europeans for their part eavesdropped on conversations of American politicians as well.

It was also Keith Alexander who gave an indication as to why there was such an obvious contradiction between expressions of outrage from the Europeans and their actual reactions: The telephone data wasn't collected by the National Security Agency but was collected by and then provided to the NSA by European intelligence services.

The details may or may not be correct, but it is certain that European intelligence services have continuously gone over the heads of citizens in building up their own monitoring capabilities. Any serious criticism of the U.S.A. reflects immediately back onto our own German government.

Finally, in the debate here at home since the cell phone scandal became public knowledge, two things are being connected that really don't belong together. It's one thing to spy on politicians, the military and business leaders. That has been commonplace forever and it properly belongs in the realm of the intelligence agencies. But it's another thing to comprehensively and constantly monitor all communications between private citizens; that only became possible since the dawn of the digital age and was first legitimized by the global war on terror.

All Western democratic governments constantly talk about the difficulty of balancing national security requirements with society's civil rights. But society doesn't get to debate those issues and come to a decision; the decisions are made behind closed doors by governments and their intelligence agencies. If it were not for the Edward Snowdens of the world, we would have no idea what was going on. This secrecy goes to the very heart of democracy and it is essential to oppose it. To believe only what the government tells us would be naïve.