"You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," said President Obama on 7 June as news of the NSA's surveillance programs began to break. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society... There are trade-offs involved."
The suggestion is that privacy and security are mutually exclusive; and that if society chooses one it must lose the other. It is an argument not accepted by security guru Bruce Schneier. "I've never liked the idea of security vs. privacy, because no one feels more secure in a surveillance state," he says, reported by NBC News. "There's plenty of examples of security that doesn't infringe on privacy. They are all around. Door locks. Fences ... Firewalls. People are forgetting that quite a lot of security doesn't affect privacy. The real dichotomy is liberty vs. control."
This relationship cannot now be discussed in the EU/US talks starting in Washington later today. "Britain has blocked the first crucial talks on intelligence and espionage between European officials and their American counterparts since the NSA surveillance scandal erupted," reported the Guardian on Friday.
Europe had hoped for two separate strands in the discussion: privacy issues and intelligence and spying matters - or, in the terms of the CNN report, privacy and security. But Britain, supported only by Sweden, has argued that national security is not within the competence of the European Union. "Other aspects of the dispute, such as more traditional spying and intelligence matters," says the Guardian, "will be off limits for the Europeans after Britain insisted the EU had no authority to discuss issues of national security and intelligence."
It is not surprising that Britain wishes to limit the scope of the discussions given the close relationship between GCHQ and the NSA (both are members of the 'Five Eyes'/Echelon worldwide surveillance group) and Snowden's revelations of GCHQ's Tempora undersea fiber tapping operation.
Yesterday, privacy advocate Rick Falkvinge put forward his theory on why Sweden joined in vetoing intelligence matters: Sweden is the 'sixth eye'. Sweden's function in this intelligence gathering is to monitor Russia on behalf of the NSA. "80% of all international Russian internet traffic passes through Sweden, making it an ideal wiretapping point if you want to keep tabs on an adversary," notes Falkvinge.
"In this context," he adds, "it is no coincidence that Sweden and the UK, as the only two European countries, recently chose to block EU investigations into U.S. wiretapping of European officials and industries."