“If such an appeal is given, it will be considered,” said Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, regarding the possibility of an asylum request from NSA leaker Edward Snowden. “We’ll act according to facts.”
As Snowden’s friends at the UK Guardian note, the Russians have been going out of their way to welcome high-profile critics of Western governments, such as actor Gerard Depardieu, who bailed out of socialist France after its tax rates went through the roof. Now we get to enjoy a lecture on the evils of political persecution from the Russians.
Robert Shlegel, an influential MP with the ruling United Russia party, said: “That would be a good idea.”
Alexey Pushkov, the head of the Duma’s international affairs committee and a vocal US critic, took to Twitter to say: “By promising asylum to Snowden, Moscow has taken upon itself the protection of those persecuted for political reasons. There will be hysterics in the US. They only recognise this right for themselves.”
He continued: “Listening to telephones and tracking the internet, the US special services broke the laws of their country. In this case, Snowden, like Assange, is a human rights activist.”
Meanwhile, the European Union is concerned about the “impact” of the NSA super-snooping programs “on the privacy of EU citizens and said overall problems involving data privacy had already been raised by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding during talks with her U.S. counterparts in April,” as reported by the Associated Press:
“This case shows that a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury or constraint, but a fundamental right,” Reding said in a reaction to the case.
The 27-nation EU and the U.S. have long been in talks about data protection as part of negotiations on judicial and police cooperation.
Any issue touching on national security is dealt with separately by each of the EU’s member states, but data protection is negotiated by the bloc as a whole.
Germany’s Interior Ministry says it is in contact with American authorities to try to clarify details, and determine whether there was any infringement of German citizens’ rights, after reports emerged last week of a phone records collection program and Internet-scouring program used by U.S. intelligence. The top U.S. intelligence official has declassified some details.
Obama is due in Berlin on June 18 for his first visit to the German capital as president. Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Monday: “You can safely assume that this is an issue that the chancellor will bring up.”
The Washington Post describes European leaders as “stunned” by the NSA revelations, tossing in some more choice quotes from German officials:
“I cannot be happy that U.S. citizens might be protected in an appropriate way — I’m not sure if they are — but we are not,” said German Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar, who is charged with protecting the privacy of German citizens both from private companies and from governments. “In the Internet, we cannot distinguish anymore between us and them, inside and outside our country. It’s an international network, and the data is going around the world.”
He said that German users of American-run services such as Facebook and Gmail needed to understand that U.S. authorities had “broad access” to their data.
The British are scrambling to assure their citizens that “any data obtained by us from the United States involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards,” as Foreign Secretary William Hague put it. The unspoken assumption is that British safeguards are superior to anything Americans can expect these days. Imagine trying to explain that to the ghosts of the Founding Fathers. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and access to their metadata.
As with Americans troubled by the NSA surveillance program (admittedly a minority, according to current polling, which suggests most of the public’s attitude toward the surveillance state is shaped by partisan loyalty to whoever happens to be running it) the Europeans are unhappy with the indiscriminate nature of the data mining. Identifying specific individuals and demonstrating good reasons for monitoring their activities is one thing; building a mountain of perpetually stored, easily searchable data about the activities of virtually everyone is something else, especially if those efforts are intensifying while the President is simultaneously giving War on Terror victory speeches.
A constant liberal criticism of George Bush was that his overzealous terror-fighting tactics were making the United States look bad to the rest of the world. Remember how Barack Obama’s ascension was going to “repair” our relationships with the international community?