The PRISM surveillance program appears to gibe the NSA access to email, video chat, VoIP conversations, photos, and stored data from the participating companies. Unlike the call metadata collection program (l’affaire Verizon), this program deals with mining the content of online communication.
The European Union has very strict data privacy laws.
U. S. companies doing business with Europeans are required to abide by those laws.
Europe is not amused by PRISM.
We have seen the media reports and we are of course concerned for possible consequences on EU citizens’ privacy. For the moment it is too early to draw any conclusion or to comment further. We will get in contact with our U.S. counterparts to seek more details on these issues.
—Cecilia Malmström, Home Affairs Commissioner, European Commission
There are real issues about the extent to which U.S. law enforcement agencies can access personal data of UK and other European citizens. Aspects of U.S. law under which companies can be compelled to provide information to U.S. agencies potentially conflict with European data protection law, including the UK’s own Data Protection Act. The ICO has raised this with its European counterparts, and the issue is being considered by the European Commission, who are in discussions with the U.S. Government.
—UK Information Commissioner’s Office
If you lived overseas and you used Gmail or communicated by Skype or synched your files via iCloud, how would you feel about PRISM? Suppose you were a foreign businessman who relied upon information services from a U.S. company; doesn’t PRISM make using such a service a business liability? Why should we expect foreigners to put their data on such a compromised system?
What we should expect is that some countries, as a matter of national security, will begin requiring that data not bound for the U. S. cannot be routed through the U. S. and that data cannot be stored on U. S. servers. That could be the end of American leadership of the Internet.
One of the reasons why our Internet facilities have been used by some many foreigners is the idea that the United States, among all the nations of the world, should be the place where one is protected by the rule of law—and that law includes the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches. Folks understand that governments conduct searches, but there’s an expectation that in America searches should require a warrant for the particular things sought.
PRISM is more that a black eye. It has the potential to do lasting damage to the country’s standing as a place ruled by laws rather than a nomenklatura.