Posted by: Dirk | July 30, 2013

Geheime Kabinets-Kanzlei Vienna

The recent revelation of the monitoring of global Internet traffic by the NSA has led to a public debate. While I am normally not writing on this subject, let me throw in one argument that I haven’t heard before. For some reason, I haven’t seen anything written on the contract between the NSA and, say, the German spy agency. Are they friends, and they share everything? Does the German agency pay the US agency? Are there other spy agencies paying the NSA for revealing German data? Does the German spy agency get “exclusivity rights” on German data?

If you think that this is just unbelievable let me quote from “The Code Book” by Simon Singh. On page 59 he writes in the context of the 17th century:

Each European power had its own so-called Black Chamber, a nerve center for deciphering messages and gathering intelligence. The most celebrated, disciplined and efficient Black Chamber was the Geheime Kabinets-Kanzlei Vienna. […] As well as supplying the emperors of Austria with invaluable intelligence, the Viennese Black Chamber sold the information it harvested to other powers in Europe.

The spy agencies collect information on the public. However, given the blurred line between private and public sector it is quite possible that information is sold to third parties. Just last week, it was revealed that German member of parliament Michael Fuchs is a consultant to a private intelligence service founded by former MI6 employees. Given that humans are fallible and that their private data will reveal this, it opens the door to blackmail and can corrupt important policy makers, journalists and others in the private as well as the public sector.

This might look like it is only a small issue, but it should be remembered that people might change their behavior and that even a small change by everybody towards a more closed, less critical view of the world can have large aggregated consequences. When people observe other people are now less critical they will themselves become less critical, and this might trigger a cumulative process where the end result will be a society that does not dare to object the authorities This is why I think that it is unacceptable to give up the private sphere for the public.

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