Gained in Translation

by Kieran Healy on March 1, 2010

Brad DeLong:

DragonDictate for iPhone had better learn not to write “Martian” when I say “Marshallian”. Just saying.

It’s not often you see a case where the jokes literally write themselves.

The Washington Post “runs an editorial”: on the topic of the financial data privacy controversy that I “blogged”: about a couple of weeks ago. Predictably, it’s an ill-informed harrumph.

bq. THE PROGRAM has been credited with helping to capture the mastermind of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed more than 200 people, including some 50 Europeans. … Yet almost 400 members of the European Parliament want nothing to do with it and have effectively and indefensibly shut it down. … The tool in question is the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, which the United States created shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in hopes of using financial transactions to trace the whereabouts of suspects. … The European Commission hashed out an interim deal to allow the United States to continue operations, but the European Parliament objected, largely on the basis of bogus privacy concerns. … The Obama administration should work with E.U. leaders to push for reconsideration. If need be, additional oversight should be considered. But the administration must not go too far. Gutting a legal and effective program for the sake of imagined privacy gains would be as unwise and potentially dangerous as having no program at all.

I know that when the _WP_ editorial team sees the words ‘tracking terrorism,’ it responds with precisely that degree of judicious consideration which you apply when the doctor whacks your funny bone with a pointy rubber hammer. But the noxious guff about “bogus privacy concerns” and “imagined privacy gains” is just that – noxious guff. The program that the Washington Post is so fond of was implemented in blatant violation of EU law for years before the NYT had the guts to reveal its existence (despite strong pressure from the Bush administration not to do so). Nor are the European Parliament’s privacy concerns ‘bogus.’ The current administration has consistently refused to provide any guarantees whatsoever about how this data might, or might not, be shared with third countries. Given that many of our soi-disant allies in the war on terror have a distinctly robust attitude to the treatment and detention of possible terrorists, Europeans may very reasonably worry that any data they provide will be used to imprison and torture people, some innocent. I’ve talked about these issues with MEPs a lot over the last several years. Their memories of extraordinary rendition and the use of shared information (between the US and Canada in this instance) in the “Maher Arar case”: left a very bad taste in their mouth. Nor is the US willing to talk about real redress or compensation for people unjustly targeted via this data.

In any event, like it or not, the editorial writers of the _Washington Post_ are going to have to learn to live with a transatlantic relationship where an actor which cares about privacy can veto security arrangements. Abe Newman and I recently wrote a “piece”: on Foreign Policy‘s website that talks to this.

bq. To build support for counterterrorism cooperation, the United States must explicitly accept that the European Parliament will play a key role in future negotiations. … The U.S. administration must treat the Parliament as a true negotiating partner, along with the EU member states, on information sharing and domestic security. The U.S. administration can also address the Parliament’s substantive worries by creating its own privacy oversight structures and extending its protection to European citizens…. If the United States wants to rebuild the transatlantic relationship and promote its own security interests, it must stop treating the European Parliament as an irrelevant afterthought.