Russia and Germany may be rejecting digital technology, instead turning to handwritten notes and typewriters for official government communications in an effort to keep U.S. government surveillance at bay.
In a television broadcast, German politicians said members in the Bundestag — Germany’s parliament — are strongly considering dropping email altogether, opting for typewriters and penned notes to prevent the United States’ National Security Agency from eavesdropping, the Guardian reported Tuesday. Russian government officials also said last week they were reverting to paper communications. The FSO, an agency that protects the Kremlin government and other top officials, has already ordered nearly two dozen typewriters, according to USA Today.
“Any information can be taken from computers,” former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the domestic successor the KGB, Nikolai Kovalev, told Izvestia. “[F]rom the point of view of keeping secrets, the most primitive method is preferred: a human hand with a pen or a typewriter.”
The move to typewriters reflects a waning trust in the U.S., where many overseas doubt the nation is as free as it claims. According to a new Pew Research survey, the NSA surveillance scandal has caused a drop in the world’s view that America champions its citizens’ personal liberties. Sixty-two percent of respondents said that U.S. surveillance of its own citizens is unacceptable. Another 81 percent disapprove of U.S. surveillance in their home country.
Privacy concerns have escalated across Europe after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released documents in last year that unveiled the agency’s expansive global surveillance program. Tensions peaked when Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had bugged the phone of Germany’s Social Democrat chancellor in 2002 and its current chancellor, Angela Merkel, last year. European governments have taken extra precautions as a result, launching several investigations to find out the extent of NSA spying and scrutinizing U.S.-based tech companies that collect or house European citizens’ data.
Tech companies have also experienced significant backlash since last year’s document leaks spotlighted the agency’s backdoor access to consumer emails, private messages and phone data collected and housed by companies such as Google and Facebook. To quell privacy concerns, tech companies have become outspoken against the NSA’s spying, releasing reports on government and law enforcement data requests in the U.S. and abroad. The most recent NSA revelations released earlier this month didn’t help matters, showing that 90 percent of the emails and online messages the NSA collected were from private citizens and not terrorist suspects.
But even with strides to be more transparent, European governments bristle at the NSA’s considerable access to consumers’ information worldwide. Last month, Germany announced plans to end its contract with U.S. wireless carrier Verizon because of legal requirements “to provide certain things to the NSA,” according to the German Interior Ministry.
The European Union’s high court is also expected to decide whether Facebook illegally let the NSA spy on European users after an Irish judge questioned whether its citizens’ data stored on servers in the U.S. fell victim to snooping. If the court rules against Facebook, it could mean any company that gave the NSA backdoor access through its controversial PRISM program — namely Google, Microsoft and Apple — submit to stricter privacy protections such as getting users’ permission before collection or storing personal data and storing users’ data on European soil.