Latest Articles

Eurozine Review

Stop press: The world will not end!

In "Vagant", philosopher Alberto Toscano goes to the heart of today's fanaticisms; "Blätter" wonders where the rise and rise of a German Europe will lead; "Letras Libres" profiles Podemos; "Index" reveals how refugee stories are told; "La Revue nouvelle" slams the framing of the migrant as the ideal suspect; "A2" questions the scope of the Greek parliamentary revolt; in "Il Mulino", Nadia Urbinati sees right through the "Renzi sì, Renzi no" debate; and "Nova Istra" marks the long centenary of World War I. [ more ]

Eric Bonse

German Europe's ascendancy

Manuel Arias Maldonado

Podemos: Much more than just a marriage of minds

Pierre Coopman

Copenhagen, Paris, Syria, Nigeria, etc

Andrea Goldstein

Anti-Semitism in France

New Issues

Eurozine Review

Eurozine Review

Stop press: The world will not end!

In "Vagant", philosopher Alberto Toscano goes to the heart of today's fanaticisms; "Blätter" wonders where the rise and rise of a German Europe will lead; "Letras Libres" profiles Podemos; "Index" reveals how refugee stories are told; "La Revue nouvelle" slams the framing of the migrant as the ideal suspect; "A2" questions the scope of the Greek parliamentary revolt; in "Il Mulino", Nadia Urbinati sees right through the "Renzi sì, Renzi no" debate; and "Nova Istra" marks the long centenary of World War I.

Eurozine Review

Putting the aesthetics back into politics

Eurozine Review

The right to blaspheme

Eurozine Review

Everything is falling down, now

Eurozine Review

Dance mania and diplomatic parleying

My Eurozine

If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Share |

Prism, privacy and politics with a small p

A background to the NSA leaks with links to further reading

The disclosure that the NSA uses a clandestine surveillance program to access user data from Google, Facebook and other Internet companies shouldn't come as a surprise. In the US, privacy has been losing the battle against security for decades. In Europe, the situation is different: but for how long?

Updated on 27 June 2013: Europe demands answers after revelations that British intelligence agency GCHQ has been monitoring web and telecommunications on an even greater scale than the NSA.

Jump to the update

Prism was a scandal waiting to happen. Ever since the Clinton government passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act in 1994, and above all since the Bush government launched the "total information awareness" programme in 2003, voices have been warning of the extent of the NSA's surveillance (most recently James Bamford in Wired). Disappointing as it may be, Obama's bowing to the interests of the security institutions cannot come as a surprise. (Pro Publica has published a very useful and clearly laid out timeline that shows how laws and policies have been loosening ever since the Watergate scandal.)

Unlike, perhaps, the terms in which Edward Snowden's actions have been condemned by editorialists in the US media: most tellingly David Brooks in the jilted New York Times, for whom Snowden is the product of an "atomized society" lacking "respect for institutions and deference to common procedures". Yet, as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, the problem is that these institutions and procedures – the notionally democratic FISA court and the Patriot Act, rushed through parliament after 9/11 – have lost their claim to respectability.

This is precisely where European and US data protection cultures differ. Since the passing of the Fair Credit Reporting Act in 1970 for the private commercial sector and the Privacy Act in 1974 for the government administration – legal responses to public privacy concerns sparked in 1964 by plans for a centralized "National Data Centre" – privacy regulation has barely progressed in the US. In the US, there is no universal legislation, only individual stipulations for particular public authorities and private sector actors. In Europe, on the other hand, data protection commissioners represent an institutionalized check on the use of data by state and private actors, who are bound by a universal set of civil-rights-based regulations.

As the EU prepares to introduce a reform of the current 1995 data protection directive (see materials collected by EDRI), this gulf in legal cultures has become all the more apparent. Massive lobbying from the US on the EU to water down its planned regulations – particularly article 42, or the "FISA-clause – has been effective, as it has been previously (SWIFT, ACTA, airline passenger records). As EDRI argues, the US is attempting to prevent the creation of a strong EU privacy framework until such a time as it can be subsumed within agreements on the Transatlantic Free Trade Area, negotiations over which are due to begin soon.

The revelation of the degree of cooperation between the big US commercial data-aggregators and the US state will further politicize this stand-off between Europe and the US, as well as within Europe between members acting in US interests to preserve the status quo (above all the UK) and those advocating strong protections (above all Germany). With the confirmation – if confirmation were needed – that your data is not private with Facebook et al., the European public may wake up to the significance of what has until now been a legalistic debate perceived as having little connection to politics with a small p.

Updated on 27 June 2013 

GCHQ snooping

Britain has been cast even further into Europe's data protection wilderness after revelations that its formerly glorious signals intelligence agency GCHQ has been monitoring web and telecommunications on an even greater scale than the NSA. Germany's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has demanded explanations from her British counterpart, asking whether the 30-day retention of signals data is based on concrete suspicion or warrantless (guess which) and calling for the issue be included in discussions on the EU data protection regulation. One of the last remaining members of the civil rights wing of the Free Democratic Party and instrumental in Germany's rejection of the EU data retention directive in 2010, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is more than a match for British security hawks (see her 2008 article in Blätter für deutsche und international Politik, entitled: "Towards an authoritarian state"; in German).

This isn't to ignore the moralizing tone of many of the pronouncements of German politicians, including the inevitable Stasi comparisons, particularly from the Christian Democrats. As a new publication by the historian Josef Foschepoth has revealed, West Germany's own historical record has been far from immaculate: after 1969 German intelligence agencies eagerly took over the Allied surveillance apparatus and, sanctioned by the Federal Constitutional Court, passed laws enabling it to read private correspondence en masse – laws that remained in place after re-unification (Zeitgeschichte Online has just published and interview with Foschepoth; in German). And, earlier this year, Netzpolitik revealed that Germany's federal police force had purchased illegal Trojan horse software from a German-British company, whose customers also include the governments of Egypt and Bahrain.

So far, politicians from other European countries have kept a conspicuously low profile, considering that an EU partner has been caught snooping on the rest. This has led to speculations about what is still to come from Snowden's USB sticks. However, the European Commission has reacted swiftly and strongly. In a letter to UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Commission vice-president Viviane Reding requested detailed clarifications about the scope of the UK's spying practices and even hinted at legal action: "If reports are true these programmes could have a serious impact on the fundamental rights of individuals in the EU, including the right to privacy and data protection, the principle of proportionality and the rule of law generally."

Back to the US: As the smear campaign against Snowden gets underway (Chinese/Russian spy, chum of Venezuelan/Ecuadorian demagogues, egomaniac/sociopath), David Bromwich writes in the London Review of Books that the Prism affair has again shown on which side of the fence the liberal establishment stands: "Every public figure who is psychologically identified with the ways of power in America has condemned Snowden as a traitor, or deplored his actions as merely those of a criminal, someone about whom the judgment 'he must be prosecuted' obviates any further judgment and any need for thought."

So, what will the global repercussions of the Prism disclosures be? Simon Davies predicts that strengthened privacy protections in Europe will prompt even more effective technologies of circumvention in the US (and its "Five Eyes" allies).

Aerial image of the GCHQ in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK. Source: Ministry of Defence

Privacy articles in Eurozine

Age of insecurity: Writing in Index on Censorship 2/2011, Gus Hosein and Eric King show how cooperation between businesses and governments creates unprecedented opportunities for surveillance of citizens, both in dictatorships and democracies. "As long as the key technology developers keep on assuming that their users are uninterested [...], we will all remain vulnerable. It is now time for a mature debate on privacy and security. Not one that sees the benefit of the state as paramount, nor one that assumes that if the service is free then the user's information can be exploited." And in 2008, Hosein wrote on how the Internet is turning into a "data goldmine" for governments that want to keep track of their citizens. "It is almost as though freedom and flexibility is being designed out of the Internet, where previously they were essential."

Contain this! In Mute 17 (2011), reacting to the Wikileaks scandals, Felix Stalder offered a brilliant analysis of the interaction between whistleblowing organizations and traditional news media: "What we can see is a slow, structural transformation of the public sphere in which the old news media is complemented by new actors, designed to address the weaknesses of the mainstream media while making use of its core capacity to bring stories to lots of people. All in all, the process of investigative journalism is reorganised and, one can only hope, reinvigorated."

The transparency delusion: Writing in 2013, Ivan Krastev argues that transparency is no substitute for democratic empowerment: "Contrary to the claim of transparency advocates who insist that it is possible to reconcile the demand for the opening of government with the protection of citizens' privacy, I contend that wholly transparent government denotes a wholly transparent citizen. We can't make the government fully transparent without sacrificing our privacy. [...] Contrary to the expectations of the transparency movement that full disclosure of government information will make public discourse more rational and less paranoid, my argument is that a focus on transparency will only fuel conspiracy theories. There is nothing more suspicious than the claim of absolute transparency."

Simon Garnett


Published 2013-06-15 (updated 2013-06-27)

Original in English
© Eurozine

Focal points     click for more

The politics of privacy
The Snowden leaks and the ensuing NSA scandal made the whole world debate privacy and data protection. Now the discussion has entered a new phase - and it's all about policy. A focal point on the politics of privacy: claiming a European value. [more]

Beyond Fortress Europe
The fate of migrants attempting to enter Fortress Europe has triggered a new European debate on laws, borders and human rights. A focal point featuring reportage alongside articles on policy and memory. With contributions by Fabrizio Gatti, Seyla Benhabib and Alessandro Leogrande. [more]

Russia in global dialogue
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Ukraine in focus
Ten years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is in the throes of yet another major struggle. Eurozine provides commentary on events as they unfold and further articles from the archive providing background to the situation in today's Ukraine. [more]

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
Eurozine Gallery: TIME top ten photos of 2014
Massimo Sestini's aerial shot of a boat containing at least 500 people attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, included in the current exhibition in the Eurozine Gallery, has been named one of the top ten photos of 2014 by TIME magazine. [more]

A master of the daily grind
On Sunday 30 November, Turkish publisher Osman Deniztekin died, just a few weeks after having been diagnosed with leukemia. He was 65. In memoriam. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Dessislava Gavrilova, Jo Glanville et al.
The role of literature houses in protecting the space for free expression
This summer, Time to Talk partner Free Word, London hosted a debate on the role that literature houses play in preserving freedom of expression both in Europe and globally. Should everyone get a place on the podium? Also those representing the political extremes? [more]

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

There are currently no positions available.

Editor's choice     click for more

Felix Stalder
Digital solidarity
As the culture and institutions of the Gutenberg Galaxy wane, Felix Stalder looks to commons, assemblies, swarms and weak networks as a basis for remaking society in a more inclusive and diverse way. The aim being to expand autonomy and solidarity at the same time. [more]

Literature     click for more

Olga Tokarczuk
A finger pointing at the moon
Our language is our literary destiny, writes Olga Tokarczuk. And "minority" languages provide a special kind of sanctuary too, inaccessible to the rest of the world. But, there again, language is at its most powerful when it reaches beyond itself and starts to create an alternative world. [more]

Piotr Kiezun, Jaroslaw Kuisz
Literary perspectives special: Witold Gombrowicz
The recent publication of the private diary of Witold Gombrowicz provides unparalleled insight into the life of one of Poland's great twentieth-century novelists and dramatists. But this is not literature. Instead: here he is, completely naked. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Law and Border. House Search in Fortress Europe
The 26th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Conversano, 3-6 October 2014
Eurozine's 2014 conference in southern Italy, not far from Lampedusa, addressed both EU refugee and immigration policies and intellectual partnerships across the Mediterranean. Speakers included Italian investigative journalist Fabrizio Gatti and Moroccan feminist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rita El Khayat. [more]

Multimedia     click for more
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]

powered by