US President Barack Obama has stopped the NSA from spying on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The move revealed by an unnamed US official is said to be part of the White House review of US spying in the wake of damaging leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
It’s important that this “leak” (approved by the White House or not) is still publicly unconfirmed, as is whether the US was actually spying directly on the IMF or WB.
That said, it would be naïve to believe the US was not engaging in some sort of surveillance efforts on two of the world’s largest financial institutions.
As I have stated before, the idea that the US government is spying on the leaders of every major country-including allies- should come as no surprise.
Accepting this fact, the announcement that the US government is now going to forbid itself from spying on two of the most powerful institutions on the planet sets a very bad precedent.
While the world is caught up in a furor of “all spying is bad” we have to consider the impacts of this decision.
First we need to answer the basic question: is the US government a bad nation for having spied on the IMF and World Bank? And does stopping that action actually make the US better?
While US Exceptionalism and ego would like us to believe that we are above the petty actions of realist nations who do yucky things like spying on global institutions, reality must intrude and say that information is power, and information on global economic politics is hugely important.
Stopping spying on the IMF and WB seems like a move to make people feel better, rather than a decision based on a lack of need to be spying on these institutions.
Further, announcing (or leaking) that the US will stop spying on a certain institutions immediately begs the question: what else will the nation stop spying on?
Will the US government stop spying on all allies including Germany? Will the US government then have to stop spying on “frenemies” like China?
And if we are not going to stop spying on Germany, then what is the difference between that nation and the global institutions like the IMF and WB?
Or if the US will stop spying on Germany but not China, does this mean we have to drop the diplomatic language that calls the US and China friends and allies?
Announcing that the US government will specifically stop spying on institution or nation X will only cause more questions to be asked.
The reality is: The United States and all nation states have a vested interest in spying. Throughout history this has been accepted as the darker side of international relations.
Changing that acceptance in a moment of global anti-spying anger (that is notably focused on the US and not other countries who most definitely are equally engaged in this activity) is dangerous.
The leaks about US Spying are embarrassing to the US and concerns about individual privacy are very real.
Concerns about more traditional nation vs. nation spying should not be included in the goal of balancing domestic security and citizens’ privacy.