Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Jakob Augstein: Obama's Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Prot
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 16 Jul 2013 16:24:08 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Jakob Augstein: Obama's Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect

Article is exactly one month old, but still very relevant.

original to:

Obama's Soft Totalitarianism: Europe Must Protect Itself from America

A Commentary by Jakob Augstein

Is Barack Obama a friend? Revelations about his government's vast spying
program call that assumption into doubt. The European Union must protect
the Continent from America's reach for omnipotence.

On Tuesday, Barack Obama is coming to Germany. But who, really, will be
visiting? He is the 44th president of the United States. He is the first
African American to hold the office. He is an intelligent lawyer. And he
is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

But is he a friend? The revelations brought to us by IT expert Edward
Snowden have made certain what paranoid computer geeks and left-wing
conspiracy theorists have long claimed: that we are being watched. All the
time and everywhere. And it is the Americans who are doing the watching.

On Tuesday, the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance
system ever invented is coming for a visit. If Barack Obama is our friend,
then we really don't need to be terribly worried about our enemies.

It is embarrassing: Barack Obama will be arriving in Berlin for only the
second time, but his visit is coming just as we are learning that the US
president is a snoop on a colossal scale. German Chancellor Angela Merkel
has said that she will speak to the president about the surveillance
program run by the National Security Agency, and the Berlin Interior
Ministry has sent a set of 16 questions to the US Embassy. But Obama need
not be afraid. German Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich, to be sure,
did say: "That's not how you treat friends." But he wasn't referring to
the fact that our trans-Atlantic friends were spying on us. Rather, he
meant the criticism of that spying.

Friedrich's reaction is only paradoxical on the surface and can be
explained by looking at geopolitical realities. The US is, for the time
being, the only global power -- and as such it is the only truly sovereign
state in existence. All others are dependent -- either as enemies or
allies. And because most prefer to be allies, politicians -- Germany's
included -- prefer to grin and bear it.

'It's Legal'

German citizens should be able to expect that their government will
protect them from spying by foreign governments. But the German interior
minister says instead: "We are grateful for the excellent cooperation with
US secret services." Friedrich didn't even try to cover up his own
incompetence on the surveillance issue. "Everything we know about it, we
have learned from the media," he said. The head of the country's domestic
intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, was not any more enlightened. "I
didn't know anything about it," he said. And Justice Minister Sabine
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was also apparently in the dark. "These
reports are extremely unsettling," she said.

With all due respect: These are the people who are supposed to be
protecting our rights? If it wasn't so frightening, it would be absurd.

Friedrich's quote from the weekend was particularly quaint: "I have no
reason to doubt that the US respects rights and the law." Yet in a way, he
is right. The problem is not the violation of certain laws. Rather, in the
US the laws themselves are the problem. The NSA, in fact, didn't even
overreach its own authority when it sucked up 97 billion pieces of data in
one single 30-day period last March. Rather, it was acting on the orders
of the entire US government, including the executive, legislative and
judicial branches, the Democrats, the Republicans, the House of
Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court. They are all in favor.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence
Committee, merely shrugged her shoulders and said: "It's legal."

A Monitored Human Being Is Not a Free One

What, exactly, is the purpose of the National Security Agency? Security,
as its name might suggest? No matter in what system or to what purpose: A
monitored human being is not a free human being. And every state that
systematically contravenes human rights, even in the alleged service of
security, is acting criminally.

Those who believed that drone attacks in Pakistan or the camp at
Guantanamo were merely regrettable events at the end of the world should
stop to reflect. Those who still believed that the torture at Abu Ghraib
or that the waterboarding in CIA prisons had nothing to do with them, are
now changing their views. Those who thought that we are on the good side
and that it is others who are stomping all over human rights are now
opening their eyes. A regime is ruling in the United States today that
acts in totalitarian ways when it comes to its claim to total control.
Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism.

We're currently in the midst of a European crisis. But this unexpected
flare-up of American imperialism serves as a reminder of the necessity for
Europe. Does anyone seriously believe that Obama will ensure the
chancellor and her interior minister that the American authorities will
respect the rights of German citizens in the future? Only Europe can break
the American fantasy of omnipotence. One option would be for Europe to
build its own system of networks to prevent American surveillance.
Journalist Frank Schirrmacher of the respected Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung newspaper recommended that over the weekend. "It would require
subsidies and a vision as big as the moon landing," he argues.

A simpler approach would be to just force American firms to respect
European laws. The European Commission has the ability to do that. The
draft for a new data privacy directive has already been presented. It just
has to be implemented. Once that happens, American secret services might
still be able to walk all over European law, but if US Internet giants
like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook want to continue making money
off of a half-billion Europeans, then they will have to abide by our laws.
Under the new law, companies caught passing on data in ways not permitted
are forced to pay fines. You can be sure that these companies would in
turn apply pressure to their own government. The proposal envisions
setting that fine at 2 percent of a company's worldwide revenues.

That's a lot of money -- and also a language that America understands

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org