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Monday, October 28, 2013

Birds, Bees and NSA Spies -- Review & Outlook, The Wall Street Journal

Europe's outrage over NSA spying ignores its own history and practice.

Maybe the leaders of the European Union should have issued a communique at their summit in Brussels Friday, publicly thanking Edward Snowden for stealing U.S. secrets and thus giving them something to talk about other than their own economies.

The euro zone's unemployment rate hit a near-record 12% in August, up from 11.5% a year ago, and the trumpeted European recovery is clocking in at 0.3% after 18 months of recession. But why call too much attention to that unpleasantness when, OMG, the Americans might be eavesdropping?

The latest fit of European pique comes from further Snowden disclosures about the scale of the National Security Agency's electronic surveillance programs. Le Monde reported last week that the NSA collected some 70 million French phone records between last December and January. "This type of practice between partners is an assault on privacy, and is totally unacceptable," says French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who summoned the U.S. Ambassador for a scolding.

Meanwhile, Germany's Der Spiegel reports that the NSA may have been monitoring Angela Merkel's cellphone for over a decade, though it isn't clear whether the U.S. listened to the German Chancellor's calls or simply kept a log of her contacts. The Merkel revelation follows similar disclosures that the NSA kept tabs on the electronic communications of Mexico's Felipe Calderón and Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, among other world leaders.

The French outrage is especially hard to take seriously given that Le Monde reported this summer that the French intelligence agency DGSE maintains its own robust data-collection program on domestic and foreign targets. "Le Big Brother français," Le Monde calls it. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted recently that the French were eavesdropping on her private conversations when she was U.N. ambassador in the 1990s. "This is no surprise to people," she told a conference in Washington. "Countries spy on each other."

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