US lost credibility as an ‘ethical internet steward’
RT:Do you believe the fallout from the scandal might
actually lead to Washington reviewing, or curbing its
Sascha Meinrath: I should hope so. It is clear that what the US has been doing is not sustainable over time. This has created a massive reputational crisis for the US. This is a Sputnik moment for the rest of the globe for the entire populace is in essence on edge about what the US government is doing, what is the NSA doing, what is being surveilled. I mean we are not just talking about 70 million phone calls in France. We are talking about 70 million phone calls in a single month. So in essence what we’re saying is everyone is a suspect and everyone is being surveilled. And it is probably not just France and Germany, and Mexico and Brazil, this is probably globally.
RT:The US Secretary of State told reporters in Paris that American surveillance activities were key to protecting the world from terrorism - but do you believe that?
SM: I do believe there is a place for legitimate law enforcement and surveillance but it is clear that when we are hacking the phone calls of the entire populace of France, when we’re going after the national oil company of Brazil, when we’re surveilling the EU delegation – these aren’t terrorists. This is not about terrorism. This is about economic surveillance, this is about political surveillance, not to stop terrorism but to give us a leg up in various negotiations and various information flows. This is clearly far beyond just protecting the American people. It is now into all facets of what the US government is doing.
RT:Do you believe countries like Germany and France really had no idea of the US's spying activities - or are they now simply trying to score points with the electorate?
SM: I think you’re exactly right. There is clearly a lot of complicitness from a number of these countries and there are also some countries that would rather they be the ones that are surveilling their own populaces. In one way a lot what the Snowden revelations have made clear is that there needs to be an open conversation about this balance between law enforcement, surveillance, national security and our rights online. This really comes down to a normative discussion around what should be our fundamental privacy rights and how do we balance within the civil society the rights of the individual and the needs of society at large.
RT:What diplomatic fallout will all of this have for the US?
SM: I think we’re amidst history, so the diplomatic fallout is still to be determined, but certainly we have lost a lot of credibility as an ethical internet steward. Whereas we would have been trusted in previous years to do a lot of the same things that we are doing today, now as one of the chief architects and in essence stewards of the internet, there is a lot of rightful concern about the trajectory the US has led us on. And let’s be clear. This trajectory is rather bleak. For those that would say, it is ok if the US does it. If we set an international norm where every country on the planet has the right to surveil everyone else on the planet, that is not the kind of civil society that we actually want to promote. A lot of it comes down to what are the international norms that we want to see in the online world.