On Jan. 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the growing power of the military-industrial complex. On Friday, 53 years later, Barack Obama went up to the podium to better frame the activities of National Security Agency. For the last seven months, the documents stolen by the NSA employee Edward Snowden, exiled in Russia, revealed a scandal that discombobulated the Democratic administration. Thanks to technological prowess, never before in history had we seen a country capable of monitoring the Internet and phone communications of the entire world’s citizens on such a large scale. Created in 1952, the NSA is becoming a massive bureaucratic monster. The biggest critics find it ironic, pointing out that democracy is swallowing its own children.
Obama, who was opposed to the Patriot Act and criticized George W. Bush for imposing the choice between security and civil liberties on Americans, is not offering a revolution but changes that should re-establish trust by turning information over to institutional control. The NSA’s disproportionate practice undermined its foreign policy by spying on the communications of foreign heads of state. It ruined trust in a president who, after the excesses of the Bush administration, represented the one who would re-establish civil liberties. Americans may be much more ready than Europeans to recognize the advantages of the government's reasoning and to accept the challenges in their private sphere when it comes to protecting the country from terrorism, but 60 percent demand a reframing of the NSA.
Faced with the new danger that individual jihadism presents, the advent of a globalized and hyper-digitized world — from which terrorism also benefits — poses a real security challenge. Therefore, it would have been naive to think that Obama would rebuild the NSA program from scratch. After a decade without any major attacks — aside from Boston — the Democratic president is not ready to sacrifice America’s security to the altar of ideals that he supported as a constitutional law professor. However, as a country that receives the vast majority of global Internet traffic, the U.S. has a unique power that comes with a unique responsibility. Overplaying its role as the ears of the world could lead to re-assessing certain established privileges in this big democracy.