Runaway US spying rattles European leaders


I write this week from Brussels, where the United States spying scandal has overshadowed the two-day summit of European leaders that started on Thursday (Oct. 24). The scandal hit new highs with revelations that the cell phone of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the targets of American eavesdropping. She is among at least 35 heads of state and government whose cell phones are reported to have been tapped by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Merkel is reported to have called President Obama twice in protest. In an unprecedented move, the German foreign ministry also called the US ambassador to protest the operation. Merkel is so known for her reliance on cell phones that she earned the nickname “die Handy-Kanzlerin” (the mobile phone chancellor). As such, tapping her phone would access almost all her key decisions and discussions.

What all of this reveals is a spying agency gone wild. It also shows the slippery slope that was started during previous American administrations when procedures for approval of local wiretaps and interception were gradually loosened. Presumably, violation of people’s privacy is aimed at stopping criminal activity, not to gain political advantage. We remember what happened when President Nixon wiretapped his political rivals and had to resign in the ensuing scandal. To make sure that executive authority does not abuse that exception, most countries require a court order to undertake such surveillance.

However, it seems that when it came to foreign espionage, the NSA was not encumbered by either legal, ethical or diplomatic considerations. That it has tapped cell phones of some 35 world leaders, and hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens, including some of America’s closet allies demonstrate that it has not considered any limits to invasion of privacy, as the recent revelations in Europe have made clear.


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