URIOS Symposium: NSA Spying – A step too far?

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Have you ever thought about what happens with all the information you transmit through the internet and telephone lines? Think again. Intelligence agencies have long taken an interest in such third party data like yours and they all differ in their motives.

The topic came under extensive scrutiny during a debate on this hot topic initiated be URIOS; a study association for European and International law. This, following the recent string of incidents in the Netherlands where Dutch intelligence agencies were secretively handing over third party data to the US based National Security Agency (NSA) without consent.


The symposium was inaugurated by Mr Matt Brown, committee member to the symposium and led by Constant Hijzen, a PhD candidate at the Leiden University who is currently researching the political and societal context of intelligence and security services in historical perspective.

Further leaders of the debate included: Dimitri Tokmetzis; a data journalist at Dutch newspaper De Correspndent. Dimitri has a background of investigative journalism for several newspapers and has written extensiveley on commercial and political surveilance issues. He is currently writing a series of articles on the Snowden-leaks and on commercial surveillance, and especially that of browsing and smartphones.

Rik Kuethe; a foreign editor for Dutch weekly news magazine Elsevier and having held his position since 1985. He studied law at Leiden University and served for the International Labour Office in Lagos from 1967 to 1969. In 1970, he joined the Dutch Foreign Service where he served in various posts worldwide until 1983. Rik is the veteran of the discussion who provides a historical and abstract view on the topic.

Dr. C.N.J. de Vey Mestdagh (LL.M, BSc, PH.D); Also simply known as Kees, he is head for the Centre for Law and ICT at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The ongoing spying sagas have become the focal point for his research studies as he proposes tactical methods for individuals to avoid becoming a victim of foreign espionage.

Judith Sargentini; member of the European Parliament for leftist political party GroenLinks. Judith has been specializing in digital freedom issues such as intellectual property and privacy. She has only recently finished up her report on the development of a European Cloud data center where the traffic is controlled solely by designated European authrities. Her report was adopted by Parliament in December 2013.


The date is 29th June 2013. Investigators of German newspaper ‘de Spiegel’ reveal that the NSA has been collecting data from European citizens in preceding years. European Union buildings had been bugged and the EU’s representation computer networks had been infiltrated providing access to discussions in rooms belonging to the EU as well as computer data.

Just a day later, German chancellor Angela Merkel confirms the infiltration as one of the first major targets of the recent spying escapade. She was startled to hear that her telephone calls and private emails were being intercepted by the NSA.

The discovery led to a series of acknowledgement and disbelief of the events among top European delegates across a number of boards expressing worry, disgust, outrage and the acts were labelled downright unacceptable. European parliament demanded full disclosure on all bugging and wire-tapping at every entity of EU interest.

The U.S. agencies were simply behaving in the same way as other intelligence organizations everywhere. -President Obama

On the 1st of July, during a trip to Africa, President Obama attempts to diffuse the tension stating: “The U.S. agencies were simply behaving in the same way as other intelligence organizations everywhere. Not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service—here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing: they’re going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world. [We are] seeking additional insight beyond what’s available through open sources. If that weren’t the case, then there’d be no use for an intelligence service.”

Secretary of State John Kerry added: “The NSA activities were not unusual. Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs of national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that. All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations.”

On the 16th of February 2014, Merkel prompted to take the initiative to set up a communications network for the sole interest of European delegates and designed to counter the effects of espionage from non-European enterprises like the NSA. Such an initiative would ensure that messages sent from within Europe are not re-routed across the North Atlantic before reaching the their recipient who is also based in Europe. Merkels plan is certainly in the interest of Judith Sargentinil whose report to create a European Data Cloud was accepted by European Parliament. This suggests that the implementation of countermeasures may become a real possibility.

Read more about the timeline of the NSA spying escapade.

Dimitri Tokmetzis compared the current chain of espionage events to the Snowden-leaks which began on 5 June 2013. Initiated by Edward Snowden, a former CIA and NSA employee, Edward leaked a number of documents about the global surveillance programme run by the NSA along with a number of their international and commercial partners. In this case, Edward was prosecuted and put to trial and forced to defend himself. The fact of the matter is, shouldn’t agencies like the NSA and their counterparts be prosecuted in a similar way for invading the privacy of individuals and groups? Compared to the Snowden Leaks case, it is obvious to state that prosecution is a one way street and that this needs to be recognized.

There is too much reference for secrecy and we know too little about technology. – Dimitri Tokmetzis

Dimitri blames the escalation of the NSA’s involvement in spying on two underlying factors. The first being that there is “too much reference for secrecy” and the second that “we know too little about technology.”

Rik Kuethe, foreign editor for Elsevier, defines spying as the collection of data without the consent of the opposite party and that this is clearly an ongoing affair. He calls Edward Snowden a criminal in the manner by which he leaks out information (in reference to his prior statement). He makes a second historical referral to a meeting between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Tsar Alexander I of Russia. He clarifies how espionage was still very relevant, even in those days, where the emperor of Prussia bribed an interpreter who would be present at the meeting to secretly collect information on the nations behalf. France and Prussia were friendly powers at the time so the information was crucial to the alliance.

Debate is ongoing within the halls of the Academy Building in Utrecht as the next security-related event takes place, “Facebook acquires WhatsApp.” Another interesting topic of how our information is being collected and dispersed to agencies with motives of their own. Think about it.

During a round of questions and answers, Dimitri further elaborates how information agencies such as Facebook and Google actually have in their possession about you and how your data is used to produce all kinds of campaigns directly targeted at you, the user; most specifically marketing campaigns.

Then Kees de Vey Mestdagh takes to the floor standing like a ancient Roman leader addressing his followers and speaking in a deep low voice convincing tone. He rejects the offer to speak through a microphone on two occasions with the second in a more assertive fashion. Before beginning, he lets the audience know that, although he finds the topic of Anarchism interesting, that he is in no way affiliated with anarchistic groups.

I am ashamed about how EU institutions have not had enough monitoring power and control over the transferring of information of its own citizens. – Dr. C.N.J. de Vey Mestdagh


Kees is appalled by the recent events of espionage by the NSA and the underlying agencies that work together and especially by the lack of knowledge provided to European agencies about episodes of espionage. He is ashamed about how EU institutions have not had enough monitoring power and control over the transferring of information of its own citizens. He proclaims the title of his speech,”The religion of secrecy versus technical reality.”

He tells the public how easy it is for them to protect themselves against data interception starting from today. His statement is in close correlation with the comment made by Dimitri that the public simply know too little about technology. This is suggestive that the public couldn’t care less if they are being monitored or not.

Finally, Judith Sargentini took to the mic. She commented about the importance if privacy and security and the willingness of the public to provide their privacy for matters of security. Judith further mentions that new European data legislation laws should be created that define spying from institutions outside of the EU as illegal acts of privacy infringement. Judith has had her report on the creation of a secure European Data Cloud only recently adopted by the European Parliament.

On a conclusive note, anything is possible from this stage onwards. It is clear that spying on user data has elevated to new level since the dawn of modern technology and the internet. Institutions of all playing fields have taken advantage of this technological revolution and the easily accessible data. What remains now is the assignation of rights over user data belonging to each geographical region. European entities need to be able to effectively control data coming in and out of their continent and the rate of spying needs to be brought down to a minimal level to avoid further escalation. Furthermore, the intent of use of such metadata needs to be made clear and formalized by agreement before data exchange takes place on an intercontinental level.

For more information on this symposium: http://urios.org/1/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=263:urios-symposium-nsa-spying-a-step-too-far
To see this event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/248363818666571/254884734681146/


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Michael Darmanin

Michael is founder and managing editor of UtrechtCentral.com. He graduated in Communications and Media at the Hogeschool Utrecht in the summer of 2012. He specializes in Web Development, Content Management and Online Marketing. Interested in co-operation? We are open to all kinds of suggestions. Contact us!

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