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The Spying Scandal in Brazil

There is no denying it. The government of the United States of America via the National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting phone calls and emails of the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, her top aides, strategic Brazilian companies, and other citizens of Brazil. Copies of these Top Secret documents have been shown on Brazilian television and can be found on Brazilian websites. President Rousseff, the first female president in the history of Brazil is furious.

Her fury has intensified due to the fact that President Obama has not met her request to turn over copies of all privileged emails, phone call transcripts and documents that are in the NSA’s possession regarding Brazil. As a result, Ms. Rousseff has “postponed” the official visit and state dinner at the White House set for late October. On the business front, the spying scandal could hamper Boeing Corporation’s long fought quest to sell thirty eight fighter jets to the government of Brazil. This deal is worth at least five billion dollars to Boeing. The manufacturing contract had been expected to go to Boeing and be announced in coordination with Rousseff’s visit to Washington in October. However, it now appears that the fighter jet decision may be postponed until 2015.

Copies of these private emails, phone calls, and NSA documents regarding Brazil and its president have been made public by Glenn Greenwald, the journalist from the UK’s The Guardian who received copies of classified NSA documents directly from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Mr. Greenwald happens to live in Rio de Janeiro and is now, along with Snowden, considered a national hero. In one of the documents the NSA enters into the private network of the oil company Petrobras, the largest company in Brazil. A major international bid for oil concessions in Brazil is taking place later this year. In another document which refers to international challenges that the United States will face in the coming years, Brazil is classified as a country of concern under the heading: "Friends, Foes or Problems?” Rousseff launched a blistering attack on US espionage at the UN General Assembly during her opening speech, accusing the NSA of violating international law by its indiscriminate collection of personal information of Brazilian citizens and economic espionage targeted on the country's strategic industries. There are no diplomatic explanations that can be given for this. There is no neat and tidy way for the Obama administration to resolve this issue. It is a messy situation. The evidence is clear.

The NSA spying on Brazil is not big news in the US but, in Brazil, everyone from the taxi driver to the business executive is talking about it. A Brazilian polling agency shows it as the most talked about story in the country. So what should the Brazilian government to do about it? What should the American government do? It’s important to note that these top secret documents show that Brazil is not the only country to be spied on by the NSA. Several other countries like Mexico, France, India and South Africa are also asking the US to explain the intrusion into their private communications. The Obama administration will be forced to do a “mea culpa” and to eat a little crow, but will anything really change? Probably not. The lack of privacy of individuals and governments is a by -product of the advancements in communications, social media, and internet commerce technology that billions of people around the world enjoy each day. In addition, most agree that the US and other countries have the right to some spying for national security reasons. President Dilma Rousseff and other world leaders will have to seek and acquire ever more advanced security technology. The new battle-ground is in cyberspace, fighting technology with new technology innovation in order to keep one’s secrets safe. The growing power and convenience of the internet has turned out to be a double-edged sword.

President Rousseff and all of us will have to get used to this new way of living and doing business. We must accept the reality within which we live. Society’s dependence on the internet and social media is too great to turn back now. The challenge is to enjoy the benefits of new communications technology while keeping our private information protected. It is an ongoing effort. As new security technology comes along that protects unauthorized entry, others will follow that find a way to beat it. The world must adapt and act as if everything that is being communicated can be seen or heard.

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