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James Boyd
Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research

Ken Turchi
Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Monday, July 1, 2013

IU expert: Latest NSA spying revelations pose four major challenges to White House

July 1, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The already strained relationship between the U.S. and the European Union over data protection took an ironic twist this weekend with new revelations from Edward Snowden and others that the National Security Agency partners with European allies to engage in widespread data collection and mining, and also has targeted EU officials through wiretaps, software bugs and other tools in both Brussels and Washington, D.C.

And according to Indiana University cybersecurity and data privacy expert Fred H. Cate, four factors make this weekend's disclosure particularly problematic for the Obama Administration.

Timing: "After a six-month effort by the administration to paint the Chinese as reckless sponsors of cyber attacks, the revelations of the past month, capped off by those this weekend, make the U.S. appear to be a big, if not bigger, proponent of exploiting advanced technologies and cyber vulnerabilities to its own ends," Cate said.

The U.S. stands alone: "An embarrassing reality about US surveillance law, namely that whatever protection might exist for personal privacy -- and there is considerable debate about how much is left -- is that it is limited to 'U.S. persons,'" Cate said. "The U.S. is alone among its allies in denying privacy protections based on nationality, and the subject has already caused considerable consternation among European officials, who resist being lumped into the same category for purposes of U.S. law as known terrorists."

We're treating others like we don't want to be treated: "While nations spying on each other is nothing new, the revelation of this sort of targeted surveillance of EU officials and property, especially in Brussels or on the sovereign territory of the EU delegation in Washington, D.C., hardly reflects the respect for sovereignty or the rule of law or the close U.S.-European relationships that President Obama has championed," Cate said.

We're playing defense, and not particularly well: "These revelations once again make the Obama administration look unprepared and defensive. Not only did the director of national intelligence provide false information to Congress about the extent of NSA surveillance, but each new revelation by Mr. Snowden and others makes the prior assurances by the administration look at best incomplete or at worst deceptive," Cate said. "For a president who campaigned on government transparency and responded to the first surveillance disclosures by saying he welcomed a 'national discussion' of critical surveillance issues, the most recent disclosures have once again put the president and his senior officials on the defensive, either unaware of what the NSA is up to or amateurishly unprepared for what they must know he is able to disclose."

Fred H. Cate is a Distinguished Professor and the C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law at the IU Maurer School of Law. He also directs the university's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, one of a handful of cybersecurity research centers named a National Center of Academic Excellence in both Information Assurance Research and Education by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NSA. Cate is a member of the inaugural U.S. Department of Homeland Security Data Privacy and Integrity Committee Cybersecurity Subcommittee and one of the founding editors of the Oxford University Press Journal, International Data Privacy Law.

He can be reached at 812-855-1161 or