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maandag 23 september 2013

Hear no evil, see no evil

In 2006 the media revealed that the Chinese secret services had been having unlimited access to the data on servers of a company facilitating worldwide money transfers called SWIFT. Following general public outrage and an interim solution, in 2010 the European Union negotiated an agreement with the Chinese government, allowing massive transfers of data, but with safeguards for civil liberties. However, recently we learned that despite the agreement, the Chinese secret services have hacked the servers of SWIFT, and are retrieving data directly, outside the EU-China agreement. The main server is based in the Netherlands. The European Commissioner responsible, Mrs Malmström, wrote an urgent letter to the Chinese government, asking for explanations in no uncertain terms. But the Chinese government replied that Europe did not need to worry, everything is fine. Honestly. Scout's honour. At this moment the European Parliament is conducting an inquiry into massive surveillance of European citizens by Chinese intelligence services. The Inquiry Committee invited the Dutch Ministers for Home Affairs and for Security to give evidence before the Inquiry Committee. However, they all declined, stating they prefer to leave these matters to a working group of European Commission and Chinese civil servants.

I suppose everyone would find the refusal to shed light on the server break in by the Chinese government shocking and incomprehensible. Everyone would agree this were a matter for the highest political level, sufficient for a major diplomatic row with China.

However, the story isn't about China, but about the US. And that changes everything. Ministers shun the issue like the plague, refuse to answer, and prefer to delegate the matter to an obscure working group of anonymous civil servants. Anything to avoid having to answer, anything to avoid accountability.

And admittedly, the questions will be tough: were the Dutch ministers aware of the US break in? If not, how can we entrust the government with cyber security? If so, why has the government allowed the break in and illegal, secret retrieval of our personal data? Has the so called SWIFT agreement not automatically become null and void, as the US is retrieving data by the ship load outside the agreement, without any legal base, and using the data for any purpose it deems fit, contrary to the terms of the agreement? Wouldn't the Ministers consider that an act of bad faith by our key ally?

Well, we won't get to ask these questions. But I can think of other nice guests we might invite. For example the British government, which might want to come and explain why they broke into the Belgacom systems, for unclear spying operations, under the code name "Operation socialist"?

Our guest list is long....

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