Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Electronic espionage - a bridge too far?

The repercussions from the Snowden affair roll on. This is current Australian coverage: here, here, here. This is Indonesian coverage from the Jakarta Globe: here, here.  The Jakarta Post does not appear to be covering the story, although I was interested to learn in passing that  Mt Toba may erupt again, while marriage registers are in short supply. I am easily distracted!

Whatever Mr Snowden's motives, he has done damage to Australia's relations with Indonesia and potentially other countries. All countries spy, while Australia's intelligence cooperation with the US is well known. The problem arises when you get caught doing it. That said, I am inclined to agree with the Indonesian Foreign Minister's reported comment that this isn't cricket.

I think that this is one of those examples of the because I can I will problem. The apparent blanket tapping of all messages and conversations is a very blunt instrument. I suspect that the angst we are seeing in response is not the normal somewhat formalised protestations associated with getting caught at doing something that all do, nor even concern at US technical capacity. Something far more personal is at work.

If you think about it, how would you like your personal conversations caught?

Say you are a political leader from any country. Your conversations cover a range of personal and political matters, express a range of emotions; love, lust, anger, your children's problems, your plots against a rival. Now you learn that that all that detail has been caught by a foreign spy agency. Someone is listening to your most trivial and human day to day responses. You feel outraged, but you may also feel fear that material may be misused or leaked. That, I think, is why the response has been so strong. The response is personal. not professional. This is a bridge too far.

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