Sunday, June 30, 2013

NSA leaks add fuel to the global cyber war

"The United States would be better off monitoring its secret services rather than its allies". * So says the Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn on learning through the documents leaked by Edward Snowden that EU offices in Washington were bugged. It's not that other countries don't have spy agencies it's that the US surveillance industry is so vast and penetrating storing personal information from millions of its own citizens.

The extent of US spying revealed by Snowden boggles the mind and has placed considerable strain on US capitalism's relations with its allies. Of course, capitalism is a permanent state of war and in that sense there are never any real allies, military conflict is only one aspect of that warfare.

The problem is that the US is the richest and most powerful of the group; they're the guys with the big stick and the greatest resource for capital.  Some of the major institutions of global capitalism are headquartered in the US which makes it all the easier for US capitalism to spy on its rivals.

The other side of this is that most of the global communication giants are based in the US. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple etc.  Snowden's leaks revealed that these internet companies were giving the NSA and the FBI "direct access" to their servers.  Millions upon million of people worldwide use these services.

The tech companies denied that the spy system we now know as Prism was used in the way that Snowedens leaks described it.  The battle has moved somewhat in to the open as firms like Google have moved to cover their asses.  Google has filed a motion with FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) asking for permission to make public the number of "national security related orders it receives" says Bloomberg BW. 

According to BW, these tech giants are concerned that they'll be "lumped together" with the telephone companies that have to comply with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (legislation passed in 1994) which forced the telecoms to place surveillance equipment and maintain it and upgrade it.

The problem for the tech companies is that millions of their users/customers are outside of the US borders.  "Essentially there is one law for Americans and one law for everyone else.", Caspar Bowden, a privacy adviser working for Microsoft tells BW. Under FISA, a US law, foreign citizens have no rights.  This has caused a serious backlash as global reports indicate as it could lead to a sort of Internet protectionism which, as Business Week put it, could be "the beginning of the end to Silicon valley's domination of the Internet.".   Already, there is some interest in the EU for creating a European open sourced cloud system as an alternative the US.   Another issue is that many of the global institutions of capitalism are headquartered in the US, the UN for one.

I think it's important we do not underestimate the increased level of conflict in what is a global cyber war.  But I have to return to another issue that might slip people's attention and that is the deafening silence on the part of the heads of organized Labor in the US, as with the struggle on the job, the Union officialdom are nowhere to be see.  Snowden and the NSA activity is being talked about in coffee shops, bars work places and throughout the globe.  The revelations have increased tension between nations and threatened an already unstable set of global relations. US requests for other countries to assist in or directly hand over Edward Snowden are not being given much attention as countries like Ecuador defy the US.  It is a huge global issue and yet if you go to the websites of the national organizations of the organized working class in the US, organizations with 12 million workers affiliated to them,  you will read nothing about this issue. It is nothing less than criminal and activists, and most importantly militants, socialists and anti-capitalists of all types who are active in Unions should raise this glaring omission among the ranks and move motions to rectify it and force a debate on the issue and all issues relevant to the working class as a whole, organized or unorganized, at home and internationally.

* Al Jazeera report

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