Privacy and Power in the Trump Era
For several years transatlantic relations have been dogged by very different perspectives on privacy and intelligence-gathering held by many on the opposite sides of the Atlantic. Edward Snowden’s leaks and the resulting “NSA-Affair” exposed this profound rift. Two contributors to my new book Privacy and Power: A Transatlantic Relations in the Shadow of the NSA-Affair put the matter in the plainest possible terms: America should obey the international and domestic law that is meant to protect individuals’ privacy; Europeans should grow up and accept that espionage and intelligence-gathering are facts of life in the realpolitik of international affairs.
Donald Trump’s election to the presidency – on a wave of intensely-held populist and nationalist sentiment – seems destined to exacerbate this still-simmering tension. In President Trump’s world we might expect quite a lot more “power” and considerably less “privacy.” That would be a logical assumption, except for the fact that, in the weeks prior to taking office, Trump heaped scorn and disregard on America’s intelligence services as they fumbled about trying to account for Russia’s meddling in the election and to come to grips with claims that Russia had complied a damning dossier on the president. It was an unprecedented – unimaginable, really – display of distrust and disdain for the American intelligence community from the man it exists to serve. It left me with the image of a blustering defender who dulled his sword – rather than sharpening it – before brandishing it on behalf of American security.
Nothing about Trump’s nationalist and protectionist rhetoric suggests we will be moving towards a resolution of the many difficult issues opened-up by the NSA-Affair. Transatlantic cooperation on intelligence and security matters has been cast into doubt. Opening the transatlantic market in a framework consisting of equivalent standards – including privacy and data-protection standards – is a dead letter. The divide between the U.S. and Europe on these questions is destined to grow deeper.
This might make the insights from my new book all the more relevant as it does much to both document and explain our differences over questions of privacy and intelligence-gathering. It features nearly thirty chapters from established and experienced scholars and practitioners in the fields of privacy and intelligence-gathering from the U.S. and Europe. These voices confirm the gulf that exists between the U.S. and Europe. But they also point to the complexity of the issues involved and the diversity of views on both sides. It features broad conceptual analysis alongside detailed discussions of legal doctrine and interdisciplinary reflections on the social and cultural causes of our differences. The book does not outline a concrete agenda for effective cooperation. But more so now than before, that is no fault. The chances of cooperation look slim. But the book is an effective map of the terrain – complete with all its obstacles – into which we will have to venture one day when, maybe in the not too distant future, America and Europe turn to face one another again to work together with shared power, on one hand, and a common resolve to protect privacy, on the other hand.