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The dog that didn't bark

The spying scandal is collapsing like a soufflé, with some optimists seeing the affair as a "sputnik moment" for the EU

If the dog didn't bark that night, he must have known the man who stole the horse, Sherlock Holmes once deduced. Some such thing seems to have happened to the European, and Spanish, intelligence services. Either they didn't know that the US was systematically gathering data on citizens, thus failing in their mission to protect the latter, or they did know but did nothing about it, which is a betrayal of the confidence placed in them.

The second hypothesis looks more likely every day. Why? Because, as far as we can see, it seems that the European services are not only consumers of these data, but also participate in collecting them, directly collaborating with the US in tapping undersea cables and offering other kinds of technical support. We knew that the UK, as part of "Five Eyes," did this, but now it seems that Spain and France were also in it. The communiqué that the NSA has made public is clear: the agency does all that it can to "minimize" the possibility that their work may "seek, obtain, process, retain or disseminate" data that affect the privacy of "US citizens." Note the double irony here: first, the NSA tries to protect the privacy of its citizens, but does not guarantee this will always be the case (especially, we suppose, when their data leave or enter the US); second, the communiqué, declining to deny what it is now being accused of, confirms that in the case of foreign citizens, its aim might be the reverse: that is, to "maximize" the collection of data and their storage.

This communiqué should be read in parallel with that of Google, to the effect that the NSA was intercepting data traffic between the servers that store that data of users on a global scale. The program, called MUSCULAR in the jocular argot of the trade, was developed in collaboration with the British GCHQ - that is, take note, with a member state of the European Union. In its communiqué, Google denies having voluntarily offered server access to the NSA; confesses it had long been worried about this possibility; and says it is now investing in improving the encryption within its servers. This dog, it seems, does bark.

All this points to a rather cynical but quite probable scenario: the secret services involved are telling the truth

All this points to a rather cynical but quite probable scenario: the secret services involved, including the Spanish CNI, are telling the truth when they say that they act within the law and that they do not intercept messages between their own citizens. They allow others to do it, and then share the spoils thus obtained. To complete the puzzle, we need only the piece indicated by Jorge Dezcallar, ex-director of the CNI and a former ambassador to Washington, as to the meaning of the explanation the US ambassador gave to the Spanish government: if the government, having consulted the CNI, does not find that Spain has been spied on, what other explanations does it need?

All this explains why the scandal of massive interception is collapsing like a soufflé. Some optimists have seen in this a "sputnik moment" for the EU: as happened to the US in 1957 when they perceived that the USSR was ahead of them in the space race, the Europeans will now get to work and equip themselves with data protection laws, watchdogs and physical infrastructure to guarantee their citizens' privacy. And it's about time: for an EU Commission and Parliament that have lost the citizen's confidence and are facing elections with catastrophic levels of abstention next year, here is a chance to prove their usefulness.

But no. It seems that the EU government thinks they have more to lose than to gain by playing that game. As the mealy-mouthed shufflings of recent days have shown, the game has only two possible results: heads I lose, tails you win. If they make any move at all, they will do it not of their own will but in response to pressure from the citizens and companies of the EU.

Follow me @jitorreblanca

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