March 1 , 2000
Now, let me get one thing straight, I do not like snooping. Not even on the French. In fact, I am all in favour of privacy; I judge it as high as motherhood and apple pie. Hell I even have a pseudonym and write for a Libertarian site, how much more private can I get? However, there is one thing thatís really spooking me, whatís going on in the European Parliament in the name of privacy nuts like me. A new hysteria is starting to take over the political classes, and it does not look pretty.
"This carís never done more than three thousand miles, and had a very careful eighty year old granny as its only owner". It seems that boosterism is, well, boosted by these people most of all. Not so, it seems. There are some boosters who do better than any dodgy chevy dealer could dream of. These people are whoever is behind this echelon scare. Echelon, letís remember, is the spy system that was set up by the dear old National Security Agency, aided and abetted by the usual suspects of the Australians, Canadians and Limeys. It is aimed at the internet that Al Gore created. It aims to bug, pry, spy and do all sorts of nasty things to the Internet This is not the spectacular thing about it, but it is the claims of what it can do. It can, we are told, intercept every e-mail that is sent. It can intelligently screen all these e-mails and alert the authorities to the most subversive of them. I must not forget the spectacular enhancement of the bugging prowess of the NSA. However, we do seem to be forgetting one thing Ė human beings.
The idea that human beings can program computers to note every e-mail of a dubious nature, and screen out enough innocuous e-mails to not overload the snoopers without missing the important e-mails, thatís preposterous. Just think about how much e-mail you send, each day. Then think about how many of these goes to mailing lists, with each of these e-mails will be created individually. Then think about how most of our armchair bellyaching about Kosovo, Europe or Echelon is rather small beer in the scheme of things. If they are watching us, they are wasting their time; the Internet cannot be controlled, although I have no doubt that they want to control it. If they are watching us, they are missing the French bribers, the drug smugglers and the cabinet ministers that they are aimed at. We do not have to worry, and the fact that many of us have is the triumph of some dodgy software salesmen.
In an exercise of Soviet propaganda, the EU "Parliament" referred Echelon to its Civil Liberties committee. Actually look at what it was reporting on, the inability of French and German companies to bribe without being found out and being snitching on. This may be an area that the US has no legitimate interest, after all it is not American money, but is bribery really a civil liberty? Even for the Italians?
Why do I need to write this article? I am not trying to start a group called Libertarians for Snooping or Anti-Interventionists for Global Spying; nor do I intend to be antiwar.comís resident neo-conservative. All I want to do is put this into perspective. The European "Parliament" has commissioned a set of hearings on the Echelon project. Is this starting to sound familiar? They have then called "experts" who seem to be more expert in political posturing than in their alleged fields of expertise. These experts then denounce the required evil, and receive the required publicity and attendance expenses. Are certain eerie similarities coming through? In the end the committee (the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee - letís call them the High Un-European Affairs Committee Ė or HUAC for short) produce a report showing that the United States is ranged against the EU. Not only that but the US can tell when the average Burgundian blows his nose and, Mon Dieu, they have willing accomplices at the very heart of Europe, the dastardly English. Well, if you can not see the similarities yet, then I am not going to ruin your bliss by telling you, just look at the title of the piece if you have any doubts.
On one level, this is unfair, to Joe McCarthy. McCarthy, it must be remembered, actually had a very good point; there was a large amount of communists in very senior positions. Indeed, considering Rooseveltís indifference to ideology and the rapid expansion of the Federal bureaucracy, it would be amazing if the American government was not brim full with Commies. However, does the EU have any case to make on Echelon? Well, not really? They come up with a number of arguments, none of them satisfactory:
Unless you believe that all government is superfluous, and the EU clearly does not, then one of the purposes of Government is to organise defence of the realm. One of the facets of that defence is to provide intelligence. In addition, intelligence on allies is probably more important than intelligence on enemies.
That may be true, but why was Europe so keen on America fighting for it in Kosovo?
This is perfectly true, but it is hardly a uniquely American trait. After all the French President, François Mitterrand used to use French state money to pay for the German Christmas Democrats, with a substantial commercial payoff. The fact that it is inappropriate would run better if the French were more appropriate themselves.
Yes, but in American, British and Australian civil liberties. Those liberties are for us to reclaim, we need no help from the continent. Where they find out views of French and German citizens, this is not an intrusion into French or German civil liberties as these are not the domestic governments. They only intrude on French liberties when the French government is aware of the problems. This can be side-stepped by politely refusing the knowledge.
I am not meaning to say that the use by our Governments of the Echelon network is anything less than sinister, and its use for commercial reasons is appropriate. What I am saying is that this is not a new red menace, but everyday Government misbehaviour, and should be treated as such.
In the end the toughest question is why, is the EU interested? Despite an incredibly good imitation at times, these people are not stupid and they must realise that this is not a particularly bad or unusual problem. What is in it is the opportunity to fan the anti American flames. In the end, most pro-Europeanism can be reduced down to a vulgar anti-Americanism. If the European Parliament can fan anti-American sentiments then they will strengthen their hand. Just remember this when you are next asked to fight a war for European Union, whether in Kosovo or Austria, your sons and brothers are dying for the people who hate you most.
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