Spies R U.S.

The hot topic at the European Union summit this week in Brussels isn’t finance or the dismal state of the world economy. It is spying by the United States against its allies.

German President Angela Merkel had a particular grievance, based on news reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had monitored her personal phone calls. But she wasn’t alone.

The president of France demanded the U.S. stop monitoring phone calls of French citizens. Other leaders from around the world have also denounced the electronic surveillance. And, just last weekend in Denver, members of the Inter American Press Association that includes Latin America blasted federal surveillance that they said threatens press freedom.

For many decades, the United States has been the beacon of freedom that other people turned to as an example of how governments should treat their citizens and their allies, even if there were some notable missteps by this country in attempting to influence the internal politics of other nations.

But that reputation is rapidly evaporating amid the NSA spy scandal. Now, other countries wonder how the United States can presume to lecture them about freedom when it routinely spies on its own citizens and the people and leaders of its supposed allies.

As Merkel put it Thursday, “We need trust between allies and partners, and such trust needs to be restored.”

To be sure, the problems with NSA electronic surveillance didn’t begin under President Barack Obama. Some problems date back to the Nixon administration, which is what led to the creation of the secret Federal Intelligence Surveillance courts.

NSA surveillance of both foreign and domestic communications really blossomed with the passage of the Patriot Act, following 9/11, during the administration of President George W. Bush.

However, the Obama administration has kept the Bush efforts going and expanded upon them. Worse, this administration has done more to prosecute government employees who go public about security issues than any previous administration.

No wonder NSA leaker Edward Snowden remains safely domiciled in Russia, with no apparent plans to return to the United States.

Clearly, this country needs stricter regulations about how and when federal agencies may collect the phone or Internet records of U.S. citizens. Lawmakers, including Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, are working on legislation to do just that.

But if we want to restore confidence with our allies, we must also set limits on our snooping in friendly foreign countries, and provide notice and appropriate reasons for doing so. Simply proclaiming that it’s necessary to fight the war on terrorism won’t cut it anymore.


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