Watching the NSA Prism scandal from Russia

File Image of Stylized Eye Surrounded by Binary Code

(Moscow News – themoscownews.com – Natalia Antonova, Acting Editor-in-Chief – June 10, 2013) The NSA Prism surveillance scandal is disconcerting for many reasons – all of which I won’t get into here. What is especially curious about it is how meek other Western governments and even rights organizations are sounding when they talk about it.

Amnesty International noted that the surveillance system, revealed to the world by whistleblower Edward Snowden, “raise[s] red flags.” The UK government is so far downplaying the story – and refusing to say if Britons have been spied on by the U.S. government.

It has been claimed by some observers that the surveillance system, whose sweeping nature is truly dumbfounding, is the most sophisticated large-scale spying system in the world. What is perhaps even more chilling about it is how many people working for the NSA, or for third-party contracts, may ultimately have clearance to use it.

Observing this scandal go down from Moscow, I can’t say I feel shocked. Privacy is dead, everyone spies on everyone else, and if some government official really wanted to read the angry text messages I send my mother after she shows up unannounced and makes everyone eat her borsch – then they could probably do that with little trouble.

Technology has erased the boundaries between us. Russia has had a surveillance system, SORM, in place for a long time. Chinese hackers have meanwhile managed to access the systems of private defense contractors that do business with the Pentagon. On and on it goes.

The ongoing Prism scandal, meanwhile, is an interesting study in how nations are held to different standards by Western officials and organizations. Anything the Russian government does is likened to an Orwellian nightmare, but the NSA are probably nice chaps, right? They just really want to go after those terrorists. We should let them do their jobs in peace.

Of course, this is a game that anyone can play. Russian officials also excel at it. I suppose the difference is that Russia is not counted by anyone as part of the “free world.” Democracy, generally speaking, is a pretty new concept around these parts. Western leaders, meanwhile, are allegedly old hands at this whole democracy thing. When they fall flat on their faces, it’s not a good sign for the rest of the world.