Spy scandal

The NSA's Willing Helpers

Source: RF/vario images [M]
Is the NSA monitoring your communications?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The author argues that as long as the partnership continues, companies will be protected from antitrust suits and spy agencies will continue to get unfettered access to private data.

  • Facts


    • The U.S. National Security Agency collaborated with telecoms firm AT&T to spy on the UN.
    • AT&T maintains that it acted within the law.
    • Major technology firms such as Google, Apple and Intel are suspected of giving the NSA access to private data.
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Under international law, the United Nations is inviolable. According to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, “The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference.”

The UN General Assembly adopted the convention on February 13, 1946 – long, long ago, they apparently thought in the intelligence community of the United States.

The Americans spied on the UN. Whereas only isolated cases had been documented until now, such as the electronic eavesdropping operation before the 2003 Security Council vote on the Iraq war, the full scope of the Americans’ activities has now been exposed.

Thanks to the collaboration of telecommunications company AT&T, the cyber spies at the National Security Agency were able to monitor all Internet communications at UN headquarters in New York.

Unfortunately, violations of international norms are not rare, and they are certainly not limited to the United States. But what is impressive is the nonchalance with which the NSA ignored elementary principles of the global community. And what for? To provide decision-makers with a slim information advantage. There is a ludicrous imbalance between effort and outcome.

For the U.S. government, the large technology companies are not ordinary businesses, but building blocks for a global surveillance system.

The NSA documents, which show that spying occurred, are dated 2013 and were leaked to the New York Times and ProPublica, a non-profit investigative group. In the meantime, the Americans have affirmed that they are not spying on the UN (anymore).

But who is supposed to believe this? The loss of trust outweighs the amount of information gleaned from browser data several times over. This is the real tragedy of the NSA scandal.

And this loss of trust is not limited to the American government. The major technology companies are also under suspicion. They include companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Cisco, and Internet providers, software makers and network suppliers.

All of these companies were part of the intelligence-industrial complex in which the NSA operated. That was in 2013. Can we believe them when they insist that their users’ data is now secure?

In the case of AT&T, even the NSA snoops were surprised at how cooperative the company was. There is talk of compliance in the documents, which point out that “this is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.” AT&T’s reputation will suffer greatly, and it doesn’t help that the company insists that it always abided by the law.

But the willingness to cooperate points to the key issue: For the U.S. government, the large technology companies are not ordinary businesses, but building blocks for a global surveillance system. Without their information, the NSA’s tentacles would be grasping at nothing.

As long as the national IT champions provide data, their existence furthers U.S. security interests. This is why they have little to fear from domestic antitrust authorities. This is the hidden incentive for the compliant collaboration of major corporations.


To contact the author: koch@handelsblatt.com

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