The Life of Others

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

23 October 2013

“A state’s appetite for collecting intelligence expands in direct relationship to its technical ability to do so.”

This is the “Stasi” principle defined by US journalist Clive Irving of the Daily Beast.

The reference is to the former East German secret police, the Stasi (Staatssicherheit, ie State Security), which compiled a massive secret archive of data on the citizens of the German Democratic Republic. The methods used by the Stasi to infiltrate German society at all levels were exposed in a 2006 film “Das Leben der Anderen” (The Lives of Others) directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

At the time the film came out, Westerners on the whole naively imagined that this sort of thing only went on in the Communist East.

The recent revelations by Edward Snowden, a US spy turned whistle-blower,  show that nothing could be further from the truth.

It is now clear that for decades the United States, the self-styled democratic leader of the free world, has built up a massive database of secret information on the lives of private citizens, the official communications of governments and the transactions of businesses throughout the globe.

The data is collated by the US National Security Agency (NSA) aided and abetted by Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Reaction from countries subjected to US espionage has been slow in coming but a head of steam now appears to be building up.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has delivered the most robust riposte by cancelling a trip to Washington scheduled for today 23 October. The NSA is reported to have intercepted communications by Rousseff herself as well as her aides and to have bugged Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras.

Earlier this week French politicians from President François Hollande down expressed outrage at the gigantic espionage operation directed at France by the NSA.

Today it is Spain’s turn to become incensed. The lead story in the country’s main daily, El País, claims that the US has turned a deaf ear to the explanations demanded by US allies, including Spain, regarding the massive interception of national communications by the NSA.

What is more, according to the paper, Washington is blocking the activities of joint US-EU working parties set up in Brussels to clarify the situation and has refused to allow US representatives to appear before the European Parliament to account for American snooping operations.

Two major factors make it easy for the US to undertake espionage wherever it wants.

The first factor is that most of the world’s giant web companies – AOL, Google, Paltalk, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Youtube, Microsoft and Yahoo – are based administratively in the US. Ditto for many of the companies responsible for much of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure, such as Verizon, AT&T and Level 3 Communications (which includes Global Crossing). Not only that but many, if not all, of these businesses are reported to be collaborating, passively or actively, in the sweeping data trawls being mounted worldwide by US intelligence.

The second factor is that the US has so arranged things that it is in pole position to control the regulatory agencies that administer the internet, such as the Los Angeles-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages domain names.

However, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is on the case.

Following a stinging denunciation of US surveillance at the UN last month, she is reported to have called for the construction of a Brazilian national internet infrastructure independent of the US.  She is also reported to have enlisted the backing of India for an attempt to challenge the US stranglehold on internet regulation.

“The United States does not have any allies. It has only targets [enemies] or vassals.”

Remark by Jean-Jacques Urvoas, chair of the legal committee of the French National Assembly (the lower house of the French parliament) and author of a report on the legal provisions governing intelligence services in France (Le Monde, 23 October 2013, page 2).


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.








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