Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye
There is one aspect of what the European Parliament is calling the ‘surveillance scandal’ that is not to my mind being sufficiently addressed in Britain: what is GCHQ’s involvement in European hacking and surveillance doing for Britain’s standing in Europe?
While there is a relatively open and wide-ranging debate over the NSA in the US, there is virtually nil debate over GCHQ in the UK. The reason is basically twofold: firstly, the UK government has run a very successful campaign in keeping the lid on things (a combination of refusing to say anything, denying that anything wrong has been done, and bullying/persuading the media to say little or nothing about it); and secondly, the apathy of the British public is legendary. So long as it doesn’t directly affect us, we Brits just don’t care — and spying on foreign Europeans does not directly affect us.
It is all helped by the European Treaty that says that national security is national concern. The British government can and simply does say to Europe, ‘what GCHQ does is none of your concern, and it is not our policy to talk about what our intelligence agencies do.’
The result is that the man in the British street has no idea of what is actually happening in Europe, nor the dismay with which Britain and the British are now considered abroad.
Yesterday I asked Jan Philipp Albrecht, an elected member of the European Parliament and a leading light in its Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee, how Britain is now viewed in relation to GCHQ. (You can get more details here: Exclusive: Jan Philipp Albrecht Speaks to Infosecurity Ahead of Calling Snowden as a Witness.)
My question was this:
What does Britain spying on fellow members of the EU do for the future relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe?
His reply, verbatim:
It is already today a huge damage to the relationship between UK and the rest of Europe. The attacks of the GCHQ on TelCom services like Belgacom and on servers on huge internet companies are illegal cyberattacks which come near to the notion of cyberwar. The involvement of issues not covered by national security like economic spying splits the Union and throws it back to the fight between national economies in the last century. It will harm the economies in Europe including the British and the trust in the institutions as well as the digital market severely.
It is worth considering this. Firstly, between the lines, there is clear anger. Secondly, he comes as near as dammit to accusing Britain of waging cyberwar against its allies. Thirdly, he brushes aside the notion that the surveillance is based on national security and anti-terrorism, and includes the accusation of ‘economic spying’. And lastly he likens that economic spying to the situation of twentieth century Europe; a century in which economic rivalry led to two world wars. This is what Europe thinks of Britain and the British today.
Does it matter? Too damn right. Despite our aloofness, we don’t actually want to leave Europe. Prime minister Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. This is what most Brits want; but what Cameron wants is to eliminate Europe from those areas that limit his freedom to do what he wants. His main aims, which he will sell to the British public in terms of maintaining British sovereignty, is to limit data protection and eliminate the jurisdiction of the European court. These will benefit big business and GCHQ; but be bad for the people.
But — and this is the point — because of the surveillance scandal, he may be in for a surprise. He will threaten Europe that unless he gets what he wants, Britain may leave the Union. And the rest of Europe will simply say, ‘Good riddance.’