The fourth of July: it’s first and foremost an American holiday, and one that even Americans abroad take seriously. It’s not unusual to see Americans resident in this province celebrating the day, nor is it unusual to see Americans celebrating their national holiday wherever they are.
The fourth, it seems, is a day to put the United States first.
Unfortunately, it’s not the only day that Americans have sought to put their country first, and it now seems that desire may be so great as to destroy or damage good relations with friendly nations. The alarming part is that Canada may have a role in that.
Last week, as fallout from the leaks by Edward Snowden about American surveillance programs continued to spread, the newest information concerned allegations that the United States was using covert devices to listen in on even its closest allies. The suggestion is that American intelligence agencies have been using their considerable technical skills to bug embassies and diplomatic personnel, including European Union offices, while sensitive negotiations for trade deals were underway.
The Germans have described the actions as unacceptable behaviour that might be expected of Cold War enemies; the French have demanded that the Americans explain their unneighbourly behaviour.
Well, other Snowden revelations in mid-June have suggested that Canada’s secretive Communications Security Establishment had a role in intercepting messages during a G20 summit four years ago, assisting the U.S. in tracking the real-time comments of summit participants. Perhaps our government thinks that we’re just doing a favour for our closest neighbour.
But we might want to stop for a moment and think about who we are hitching our electronic wagons to.
The revelations provided by Snowden not only indicate that there is a clear line held by American intelligence agencies — that there are American citizens whose rights need protecting, and then there’s everyone else, who can be spied upon with impunity — but also indicate that those same agencies are willing to cross that line with the slightest excuse.
After all, those agencies have, according to Snowden’s documents, reached the point that they only need to believe there’s a 51 per cent probability that someone is outside of the United States in order to add that person to the lists of people who can be monitored using detailed surveillance. That’s a pretty low bar to be set by the home of the brave and the land of the free.
Our own government appears to be mirroring American behaviour in collecting data on its citizens. That’s certainly bad enough.
But we might want to rethink just how closely we want to align ourselves with — and electronically assist — a nation that appears to think even close friends are worthy of dirty tricks in order to obtain commercial or other advantages.
And a day set aside to celebrate the escape of people from a foreign government’s oppression might be a good day to consider that issue.