A lot of people have reacted to the NSA spying scandal with a childish argument: “I have nothing to hide.” Likewise, the spies themselves have justified their activities, saying “an honest person has nothing to fear.” Neither argument is valid, because the goal of intelligence gathering is not only to catch terrorists, but also to advance a state's economic and diplomatic interests.
From the revelations of Edward Snowden we have learned, among else, that the NSA has spied on European Union officials and politicians, and that the British intelligence giant GCHQ used every digital intelligence resource in its arsenal to spy on its allies' representatives at the G20 summit held in London in 2009.
The aim of this type of spying is to attain advantages in all kinds of economic and political negotiations. But there is an interesting nuance.
Namely, the US patent agency says that 35 percent of the American economy is held together by intellectual property trading. The simplest examples are music, film and software licenses and more complicated ones include all kinds of patents and technologies. So it is logical that one of America's foreign policy priorities is to protect intellectual property.
Through international lobbying and agreements, the duration of copyrights is constantly extended; agreements such as ACTA and TPP are forced on others; and more stringent penalties are demanded for pirates around the world. It is common even in Estonia to find US Embassy workers at a conference or even at a ministry's table when intellectual property is being discussed, especially regarding possible reforms and liberalization.
The political-economic side of intelligence is clearly stated in the US legal act FISAAA, which regulates the right to spy on those who do not act in the interest of US foreign policy. I would be sincerely surprised, for instance, if the NSA did not have any interest in the organizers of last year's anti-ACTA protests in Tallinn and Tartu.
I guess everyone who took the stage at the event knows best whether or not his or her electronic mailbox contained something compromising. Those who have been in correspondence with the presenters over the years can be sure that their mail has been read and analyzed.
President Ilves's comments about how we should be more worried about the Little Sister than Big Brother are not convincing. Little Sister (e.g. Google, Facebook) analyzes data that you yourself have uploaded to decide whether to show you an oatmeal or laundry detergent advertisement today. That's her business model.
After that Big Brother gives Little Sister a hiding behind the shed, until the latter surrenders all your secrets. Big Brother is not interested in oatmeal or laundry detergent. He uses your secrets to change your country's laws, to attain advantages for his country in negotiations that can damage your interests and the interests of your own country.
In the general scheme of things, Big Brother's activities can be categorized into two parts.
One part of it is trying to find out where the evildoers live, so he can attack them with robot aircraft after which nothing remains of the suspect but a pink cloud in the middle of a yellow desert. The other is spying on his friends and allies. And if the allied countries' civil societies raise their profiles too high, he will surely spy on them too.
If you don't have anything to fear from such a Big Brother, then you probably live under a rock, feed off worms and don't even vote.
Elver Loho is a board member for the Estonian Internet Community (EIK)