The actions of Edward Snowden over the  last week or so, in reference to his allegations that the National Security Agency, have been divisive to say the least. The allegations accuse the US government of a massive campaign of surveillance through monitoring and collating internet usage and phone traffic. There have been those that have branded Mr Snowden a traitor and a criminal for revealing the actions of the NSA and the American government, but there has also been a growing majority of people who see his actions as the essence of freedom of speech. To many, the actions of the NSA seem opposed to the USA’s espoused political foundations and its idealistic self image, to the extent that in a recent poll by Guardian/Optinium 41% of those polled agreed that Snowden had sacrificed himself for the public good.

However, though this issue is not predominantly an American issue, it has had far reaching implications for Europe. In the UK, the government has been revealed to have allowed the agents of the NSA to access the data of dozens of individuals, an act of compliance which will ring for many the same note as the extraordinary rendition scandal years before. The UK government has also been revealed to have spied on foreign delegations in 2009s G20 summit in London, fuelling a livid response from both Russia and Turkey. The governments on both sides of the Atlantic will weather the storm, but shows yet again how far, and how often, individual rights are sacrificed at the altar of security, and that when it comes to individual privacy in a digital age, personal assurance of safeguards from various companies have amounted to nothing. We have, as consumers, been far too trusting with our data, and our governments have been quick to exploit this.

Individual governments, in the UK and USA, have thus provided another example that they are unable to protect the civil liberties of their own populations. In stark contrast, the EU, has made a rather different stance on the issue. The EU is concerned that it’s citizens, and every citizen of an EU member state whom is by definition a legally recognised citizen of the EU, have had their rights violated by a third party.

Vivane Reding, the justice commissioner of the European Commission, has been very vocal about this potential threat to the privacy of EU citizens from the US government and the NSA, stating: “The European Commission is concerned about the possible consequences on EU citizen privacy.”

Reding has also been an outspoken source of criticism of some of the EU’s member states, in reference to the UK amongst others, have shown little, if any, appetite to protect its citizens private information and personal data from the US and its various intelligence agencies. And feels that more should be done, through bilateral agreements between the EU and the USA to set the rules for the sharing of this private information.

This appears to be one of the concrete achievements of Snowden’s whistle blowing. The EU data protection rules, that were being drafted up and diluted due to “intense US lobbying” will now be of a far more robust nature, with the current version of rules under review. As Reding said herself, “With all the information we’ve found out in recent days about how easily the US spies on peoples private data I think it will be difficult for the Americans to oppose a strong data protection agreement.”

What this points to is that the rights of individual citizens is again not being protected by those that claim to be their ultimate protectors. The right to privacy of European citizens’ private data is not being protected by their relevant national governments but by an EU ever willing to make itself relevant in a changing world, and as individual states slowly wake up to the reality of a fully digital society, it will remain that the EU will be the advocate for internet civil rights, as states try to regulate, dominate and control the medium as brutally and despotically as any dictatorship.

BY: Jack Briggs

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