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China was right all along: some thoughts on the PRISM case

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Recently the world has learned, thanks to the act of courage of a whistleblower named Edward Snowden, the exact proportions of the U.S. surveillance state.

As a European citizen I find this, to say the least, very disturbing and hope that my country and all other European countries will do something to stand up against this blatant violation of users privacy.

The reason why I say European countries should do something about this is that I have truly lost hope in any kind of resolution coming out of the U.S. From the information made public it appears that the people that had the power to stop this have failed to do so and they appear to not have any kind of interest in working towards a resolution that both protects national security, but also citizens privacy.

The aspect that I personally find most interesting about this matter is the fact that U.S. companies that operate foreignly are implicated in this (google, facebook, microsoft and apple). The reason why this is important is that these companies deal with personal information belonging to non U.S. citizens. What this means is that being a EU citizen, therefore not having stipulated a social contract with the U.S. I have no power whatsoever to ensure that my issues on this matter get addressed. As a U.S. citizen I may be angry about this policy, but at least I have some little power (through voting, for example) to make sure that my issues are addressed. Moreover my local government is somewhat a more “trusted” party than in the case where I am a EU citizen.

This aspect is interesting for 2 reasons. The first is that I see this as a competitive advantage for companies that deal with personal information that are not based in the U.S. Why would I even want to have my personal data handled by a company that I know will collude with a rogue organization such the NSA?

The second aspect is perhaps even more interesting and controversial. China has a long history of censorship and surveillance, however I think that this story demonstrates us how they were actually the most farsighted. Chinese citizens have a social contract with their state. They give up some of their personal freedoms in exchange for security. The freedoms that they give up are quite a bit, but their state, in this circumstance, has demonstrated to have managed to successfully protect them from some threats.

In China all connections to facebook and google are censored and this turned out to be a very reasonable thing to do. If you are a state and your interest is to protect your citizens, why on earth would you allow them to sell their lives out to foreign countries that will use this data for intelligence purposes. You don’t. This is why I believe that censorship google and facebook in China turned out to be a good idea and perhaps something that Europe should consider as an option. If instead of wasting our time on censoring file sharing websites and gambling websites we were to focus on the important things and censor google and facebook in Europe, perhaps now we would not be in a situation were the EU has no way of ensuring the confidentiality of it’s citizens personal information.

I obviously do not believe that censorship is the solution here, however I do believe that the EU should do something to stop their citizens data from ending up in the hands of foreign spies. The first step in doing so is incentivizing good privacy aware EU based companies. I truly see this as the opportunity for the creation of a new european based silicon valley. Now is the time as citizens of the United States of Europe to show the US that we do not appreciate their laws with the only tool we have: money.

If you believe that people should have the right to privacy, then you should consider moving all your personal information away from google and facebook to other EU based more privacy aware alternatives.