OPINION: Was it really wise of Angela Merkel to call up Barack Obama and go crook at him for the United States National Security Agency's monitoring of her phone?
Lord knows who might have been listening in on that call.
Then again, perhaps her anger wasn't altogether for the president's ears alone.
It is possible to be outraged that the US is monitoring its allies in this manner. After all, where's the trust? But there's surely an element of both posturing or, less likely, naivete behind any shocked stance.
This is partly because of how good so many countries and individuals are at spying, and partly because of how bad they are at not spying.
In some respects, they're all so ardently at it that requiring them to pull back at a particular point - say the chancellor's own phone - is the spook equivalent of coitus interruptus. Easier said than done.
As The Washington Post reported a NSA spokesman admitting: "We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line."
This is doubly true when the only line that the electorally significant majority of the folks back home in the US seem to give a goldarn toot about is their own privacy rights as enshrined in their Constitution. Foreigners, not so much.
It's not just about targeting, either. Quite the reverse, more often. A great deal of spying is more closely akin to driftnetting than to angling specifically for the private utterances of world leaders.
Metadata is gathered in scarcely comprehensible quantities and is then sifted. Even with the best will in the world (and that's hardly likely to be the case all that terribly often) exempting individuals from the process is no easy matter.
That said, the indignant Merkel is entitled to take the latest discovery of snooping rather more personally because she was evidently was lined up for US attention. Once we get past that gaping non-denial denial from the White House that it would not dream of doing such a thing as spying on her (any more) we should put into context the rather more murmured explanation that everybody's doing it anyway.
In fact the US, Russia, China, Britain and France are identified as the real titans of espionage. And may we say kudos to our own Government Communications Security Bureau for flying so effectively under the radar there. Other nations aren't in that league, whether or not they might quite like to be.
Germany, you will note, is not among those ranks. Given that the US and Britain have an agreement not to spy on each other, the Germans had sought a similar deal with the US but were denied it, apparently because then everybody would want one. So exactly how shocked would Merkel have truly been?
Apart from inviting further international reproach towards the US, this latest peek into its spybook will perhaps increase international interest in the development of reliably protective encryption standards, although as things stand these appear to be at best temporary, if not downright illusory, defences.
Much as New Zealanders like to think that we're capable of showing the world the way forward from time to time, it's unlikely that they'll necessarily be impressed with our own solution - just anoint John Key with the responsibility for keeping the entire spook society honest, and then turn our own backs, entirely, on the finicky details.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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