Mass surveillance of American citizens hit the news cycle first. Now, international spying on foreign leaders by the National Security Agency – or NSA – has hit the headlines.
This has undoubtedly infuriated individuals overseas, fueling concerns that American officials are indiscriminately collecting vast amounts of mobile phone and email data globally. It’s really no secret that our country collects data from sources around the world. So does every intelligence service with such capabilities internationally. They likely also spy on the U.S. or would if they could.
However, our security officials need to ensure we’re collecting information because we need to, not merely because we can.
For instance, Spanish media reports indicated the NSA alledgedly spied on 60 million phone calls placed in Spain between Dec. 10 of last year and Jan. 8. Those reports followed the revelation that the NSA eavesdropped on millions phone calls in France and other countries.
In the post-9/11 world, that may be what it takes to keep the world safe. However, such measures must be weighed against the needs of our international relationships and ever increasing global economy.
Some heads of state have indicated the allegations have deteriorated trust in the Obama administration. This could come back to hurt us during trade agreement negotiations or when we really do need intelligence information that we haven’t gathered ourselves.
While counterterrorism efforts are obviously vital, spying on close allies seemingly does more to undermine our relationships than anything else. An inside memo obtained by The Guardian newspaper indicated that eavesdropping on foreign leaders actually produced “little reportable intelligence.”
We should not lose sight of the mission to keep America safe, but analyzing the political and economic costs and benefits of international spying is still essential.