How Are Our Telecommunication Firms Supposed to Get Business Overseas After the NSA’s Dirty Tricks?

Spiegel Online ran a long story: “‘A’ for Angela Merkel: GCHQ and NSA Targeted Private German Companies.” GCHQ is the British version of the NSA which has been working with the NSA. The “A” refers to a list of NSA targets that were organized alphabetically. One step toward spying on these targets involved spying on tech companies in Germany in order to find ways to access their information and spy on their users.

It is an interesting read.

But I was especially intrigued by a couple of paragraphs at the end of the piece.

“So far, we have no knowledge that Internet nodes in Germany have been spied on by the NSA,” Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, which is also responsible for counterintelligence measures, said last summer.

It’s also possible the Americans don’t even have to do that, at least not directly. It’s quite feasible they have better access through major US providers like AT&T or Verizon whose infrastructure is used to process a major share of global Internet traffic. The NSA could use that infrastructure to access data from Germany. This would be totally legal from the American perspective — at least according to the FISA court.

So this is how most Germans view the matter, and there is no reason to think any of the other countries we spy upon see it any differently. The article names China, Mexico, Japan, Venezuela, Yemen, Brazil, Sudan, Guatemala, Bosnia and Russia as countries we are spying on to some degree, though not necessarily in the same way we are spying on Germany.

How are our telecommunications companies going to do business in other countries if those countries see them as agents of the NSA?

The internet, it seems to me, only developed across the globe because of a degree of trust between nations. What happens once that trust is dismantled?

I’m not saying that what the NSA and GCHQ did is necessarily illegal (though it may be) but that what they did was practically guaranteed to spread distrust and make enemies. Has the NSA shown any evidence that the security advantages it secured for United States citizens were great enough to outweigh the security risks involved in losing trust with other nations?

And what about legality? Industrial espionage is illegal in most countries including the U.S. But, according to Spiegel,

Monitoring companies and their employees along with the theft of customer lists are classic acts of economic espionage. Indeed, such revelations ought be a case for the German federal public prosecutors’ office, which in the past has initiated investigations into comparable cases involving Russia or China.

So far, however, German Federal Public Prosecutor Harald Range has been struggling with the NSA issue. Some experienced investigators have had a problem applying the same criteria used to assess intelligence services like Russia’s to those of the United States and Britain. Federal prosecutors in Karlsruhe have provided a preliminary assessment, but so far no decision has been made about whether the agency will move forward with legal proceedings.

German politicians may be intimidated at the moment, but I doubt the German people are going to stand for their government allowing foreign governments to wage industrial espionage campaigns against German companies. We have already seen Boeing lose business in Brazil thanks to the NSA. What about American telecommunications and tech companies? What is going to happen to their international sales?