The recent revelations about U.S. intelligence programs are causing an uproar in Europe. In particular, the wide-ranging efforts to monitor European diplomatic offices and communications networks have led a number of officials to voice their discontent publicly. German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that U.S. behavior “was reminiscent of the actions of enemies during the Cold War,” while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was unequivocal: “These acts, if confirmed, would be completely unacceptable.” The question now is: What will be the actual policy implications of recent revelations about PRISM and associated intelligence collection efforts? And to what extent will these revelations instigate much-needed reform in counterterrorism policy?
The leaks are unlikely to lead to any substantial reforms in current counterterrorism policies in Europe for four main reasons. First, European officials are facing much more pressing issues, including a persistent economic crisis, high levels of unemployment, the future of the eurozone and budget deficits—and all that in spite of the dramatic measures implemented so far, either in the form of bailouts, public investments or austerity programs. Much attention and many resources will therefore be devoted to addressing these challenges first and foremost.
Second, several countries in Western Europe that have publicly expressed their discontent regarding the recently revealed U.S. intelligence programs have inconsistencies and contradictions in their own policies, specifically their attitudes toward civil liberties. In particular, France has implemented very harsh counterterrorism policies over the past three decades, for example through widespread intelligence and wiretapping measures, indiscriminate raids in Muslim communities and numerous deportations. Meanwhile, the early version of the U.K. counter-radicalization program known as Prevent, more-recent stop and search measures, and some of the schemes of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the U.K. signals intelligence agency—including Operation Tempora, the U.K.’s own massive data-collection effort—also shed light on some of the hypocrisy of political reactions to U.S. intelligence programs in Europe.