Silent Answer

Edited by Gillian Palmer


Four months after the National Security Agency’s massive communications spying scandal blew up, Barack Obama’s government can’t continue using the strategies of silence and obstruction in the face of what has been revealed as a huge scandalous violation of individual rights.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Merkel herself recalled it in a telephone conversation, emphasizing that these practices are unacceptable. We now know that the software the agency uses not only has permitted the control of computers and the intercepting of communications, but has also been applied to telephone lines. Merkel herself suspects that her own mobile phone has been tapped.

As much as it is alleged that the wiretapping has been done with legal authorization, under the controversial Patriot Act, it is hard to accept that the fight against terrorism justifies the need to collect millions of communications from citizens of other nations.

A basic sense of the proportionality makes it implausible that, in a hypothetical search for terrorists, the spy agencies have intercepted the computer communications of people like the presidents of Mexico and Brazil, or the French diplomatic delegations in Washington and the United Nations.

In the surge of revelations, we also know that the Spanish secret services take it for granted that our country has been the object of illegal intrusions of private communications. The demand for an explanation has had, up to now, the same evasive response given to the other affected countries. This is not acceptable among allies.

This matter generates embarrassment among the governments and the European Commission explains that the reaction has fluctuated between lukewarm and hypocrisy, in part because the majority of countries have a lot to hide over their own espionage agencies.

But the size of the case makes Washington’s disdain of its relations with these allies and its avoidance of the demand for an explanation unbearable. The European Parliament, the most active institution up to now in the defense of citizens’ rights but also the one with the least power, has asked that banking data not be sent to the U.S. if a coherent legal framework consistent with the rule of law cannot be guaranteed. It is only a gesture, but Obama better not ignore it.

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