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US Web Surveillance Allegations Spark Global Privacy Debate

  • Henry Ridgwell

Governments, campaigners and bloggers around the world have been reacting to allegations that U.S. security agencies secretly collected emails and files directly from the servers of companies like Google and Facebook. The claims were made following leaks from a former contractor at the National Security Agency. The British government has been accused of colluding in the alleged surveillance program.

In the British Parliament, Foreign Secretary William Hague denied that Britain's security agencies had skirted national privacy laws by collecting data on British citizens from the U.S. National Security Agency.

"Our agencies practice and uphold U.K. law at all times. Even when dealing with information from outside the United Kingdom," said Hague.

Critics say the allegations of Internet and phone surveillance would violate basic privacy. Emma Carr is deputy director of the British campaign group Big Brother Watch.

"A mass communications data being piled into one place and being fished through just in case somebody's been committing a crime, or retrospectively they can look through it if someone's committed a crime. That's not ok and that's not what democratic societies have been based on," said Carr.

But some Britons VOA spoke to were unconcerned by the surveillance allegations. Nick James is from London.

"I think that we're in the age of big data, and as much data as they can collect is great. If they can predict what might happen out of that data then that's all to the good," said James.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin reacted to the allegations, saying government surveillance should only operate under the law.

But critics argue the Russian government does not allow a free press. Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist, says the allegations could have far-reaching consequences for the web.

"We used to think about the Internet as something global. Now we know that in Russia they already started to use arguments like, 'We need to build national boundaries.' And now, well this provides very good ammunition for these kind of arguments," said Soldatov.

China has long been accused by the West of censoring Internet access. Beijing blogger Michael Anti says the allegations against the United States could benefit China.

"The government will say, we told you, every government did the same thing about Internet control, and all the criticism you once made to us about Internet freedom, basically is very hypocritical," said Anti.

On the streets of the Chinese capital the reaction was mixed. Sarah is a fashion designer.

"It does not matter if I commit any crime or if it is just my personal affairs, in the end it is my business. Everybody should have a bit of space," said Sarah.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will raise the issue when U.S. President Barack Obama visits Berlin following the G8 Summit next week.
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