Do governments only spy in the interest of national security? Possibly not. Documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden have sparked a tense debate on the issue. His revelations about government snooping have had a huge impact on international affairs, straining relations between allies and sparking condemnation from rivals. Following Samuel Clements’ excellent article on this issue recently for MouthLondon, here is the latest.

The US Government has responded to the allegations. US Secretary of State John Kerry begrudgingly conceded that in some cases “US spying has gone too far”. The National Security Agency (NSA) is accused of undertaking mass surveillance operations across the globe. This includes eavesdropping on US allies and monitoring private information through internet companies. The NSA has also responded to these allegations. Their director General Keith Alexander says European media claims are false. He said they “cite as evidence screenshots of the results of a web tool used for data management purposes but both they and the person who stole the classified data did not understand what they were looking at. To be perfectly clear – this is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our Nato allies have collected in defence of our countries and in support of military operations”. Perfectly clear, right? Perhaps this translucent response could be best interpreted as “we didn’t do it… but everyone does it anyway”…

So all spies are as bad as each other, perhaps. What is clear is that the government security services (including in the UK’s GCHQ) had made the trade-off that intelligence obtained was worth the invasion of privacy. They were concerned with the quality of the intelligence they obtained, and not with people’s knowledge or consent. They were irresponsible and unaccountable.

…to face changes of espionage…

Snowden is currently a political asylum in Russia, while the White House continues to demand that he return to the US to face changes of espionage. He explains the importance of his revelations and the ongoing debate: “instead of causing harm, the usefulness of the new public knowledge for society is now clear because reforms to politics, supervision and laws are being suggested”. He is due praise for sparking this debate, and for letting us know what our governments are up to.

…We would do well to question our moments of political apathy…

As much as we don’t like to admit it, perhaps we as younger people have something to learn from our elders. We would do well to question our moments of political apathy, and be more aware of the widening gulf between governments’ lofty statements about freedom and the facts about their secretive actions.

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