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A gift from Snowden to the European economy

The revelations made by Edward Snowden did not show us anything that we never thought possible. It did reveal, however, that many of the things that were possible in theory found their way to reality. Those revelations also gave opportunity for many of the chronic paranoids and conspiracy-theorists to say “I told you". Fact is, digital life causes us to rely on more and more service providers, in the shape of government agencies and private organizations, and those providers were now caught violating our trust. When we buy products and services, we trust their provider to follow the norms we believe it follows. When such trust breaks, we need to think what next. In my opinion, this situation forms an opportunity for Europe to catch up.

According to the revelations made by by Snowden, just about every major American corporate found itself cooperating with this or that type of warrant-less surveillance request, sooner or later. These organizations now claim that cooperation was minimal, but given the secrecy and lack of transparency that surrounded this operation so far, there is no good reason to take such statements at face value. The truth is that trust has been violated, to an unknown extent.

The fact that no large company seems to have been left out is of significance. It implies that we may live in a generation where large companies cannot afford to not comply. No company that complied with a warrant-less surveillance request did so out of its ideology. A company that is caught violating the trust of its users has a lot to lose; and yet, they all complied. This teaches one thing: for a service provider of a significant footprint there is probably no other way but to comply. No single company is exceptionally evil; they just do not have a realistic choice.

But we do.

The Internet is global, and so is the location of the service providers riding it. If the US is not a place for providers to survive without violating user trust, then users can take their business elsewhere. This is not for disliking American companies; this is for valuing trust, and for assuring that service providers adhere to similar norms as their users.

Europe has always lagged behind the US when it came to Internet services. The current situation that emerged may give it a rare opportunity to catch up, if European services can become commercially competitive.

The paranoids will likely claim that this is not any different. Some of Europe does have its own reputation of violating even more fundamental human rights in the past. Nonetheless, judging by the current status, privacy legislation in Europe is more advanced, and its decentralized governmental structure may imply that for the time being, European companies may form a trustworthy alternative.

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