The revelation of the existence of the PRISM program, which allows U.S. government agencies to either directly or indirectly have access to email and chat content, videos, photos, stored data, transferred files, notifications, online social networking details, and more of users of nine of the biggest and most popular Internet companies and services in the world today has apparently shaken the rest of the world more than it has U.S. citizens.
This can be explained with several factors: first, that the snooping was done by the U.S. government – I can guarantee that Americans would be up in arms if the government doing the snooping was any other but theirs.
Second, because Americans are used to being a (and for a while “the”) world military, economic and political superpower, giving them a natural (if not excusable) sense of superiority and natural desire to keep that position, which in turn makes them condone spying of foreign targets.
But while focusing their efforts on military and political subjects is justifiable – after all, most world nations do it one way or another – having access to phone and online communications and information of and about private foreign citizens can not be accepted so easily.
But despite the slew of political complaints from all over the world (Canada, Australia, North Korea, China, Germany, the EU, but curiously not that much the Russian Federation), German journalist Jakob Augstein has hit the nail on the head by pointing out that “the US is, for the time being, the only global power — and as such it is the only truly sovereign state in existence. All others are dependent — either as enemies or allies. And because most prefer to be allies, politicians — Germany’s included — prefer to grin and bear it.”
Let’s face it: politically, there’s not much any other government can do to stop all this from happening. The biggest Internet and tech companies are based on U.S. soil, and as such will be always obliged to conform to U.S. law and court orders. Foreign countries can slap the companies in questions with fines for breaching privacy laws regarding users living on their soil, but that’s about it.
So, the only thing that remains for users outside the U.S. is to vote with their wallets.
European cloud computing firms and U.S. ones that allow users to use encryption keys that only they hold are already seeing the results of the PRISM and Verizon revelations and are rubbing their hands in anticipation of more business coming their way.
The same can be said of private search engines like DuckDuckGo and anonymous social networks such as Duvarnis.
But ultimately, the U.S. might lose something they probably hold dear: their role and influence in global Internet governance.
As Bruce Schneier has eloquently pointed out, these revelations have probably proven to countries around the world that the U.S. is “too untrustworthy to manage the Internet.”