In a relatively scathing op-ed, a high-ranking government official let loose on the National Security Agency's data-mining program: "The more a society monitors, controls, and observes its citizens, the less free it is." Like many politicians who find themselves talking the security-privacy trade-off, she cited Benjamin Franklin. The thing is, the author isn't American. She's the German Justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. The op-ed ran in Der Spiegel.
The commentary, and its accompanying feature story, is just a further sign of the growing international implications of the leaked NSA program, especially in privacy-conscious Europe, where people often use the U.S.-based Internet companies that are now at the center of the PRISM revelations.
For the White House, this is more than just a fleeting international tiff. Next week, President Obama heads to Northern Ireland for the G-8 Summit, and Germany's Angela Merkel has already said she will push Obama on the NSA and the "possible impairment of the rights of German citizens." Italy's data-protection chief said the NSA's data-mining "would not be legal in Italy." Politicians have also taken issue with the NSA in the United Kingdom, where Foreign Secretary William Hague faced down other members of Parliament in his defense of the U.K.'s participation in the program.
Of course, the international ramifications of the scandal go beyond the global response to data collection. Edward Snowden, who leaked the details about PRISM and NSA data-mining, made the issue global just by taking a plane to Hong Kong three weeks ago. It's not quite clear where Snowden is now, or where he'll be able to stay. Hong Kong may not be Snowden's best bet. So far, the English version of China Daily is having some fun with the story, calling out the U.S. for being hypocrites in its accusations of cyber-spying against China. Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, on the other hand, looks at PRISM and sees something very close to home:
In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the U.S., officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power.
Snowden may have some other options if Hong Kong doesn't work out. On Tuesday, a Kremlin spokesman said Russia will consider granting Snowden political asylum, if he asks for it. The head of France's far-right party, Marine Le Pen, who is best known for her strict anti-immigration policies, has demanded that France let Snowden, well, immigrate into the country. And in Iceland, where Snowden has expressed interest in going, lobbying is already underway from the country's Pirate Party to let Snowden in.
Americans may not be paying too much attention to the government surveillance scandal, but it looks like much of the world is.