US snooping an aggressive intrusion of privacy

Updated: 2014-07-18 07:44

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Before the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008, the local Dongcheng district government issued a public service announcement, telling residents not to ask foreign visitors questions about their age, income, marital status, health, address, religious and political beliefs, profession and personal life.

This was intended to ensure the influx of foreign visitors coming to the sports extravaganza would not be offended.

However, as one elderly person interviewed on China Central Television noted, if people could not ask about these, then there would be little to talk about to make the acquaintance of strangers. After all, these are everyday topics among many Chinese, although increasingly sensitive ones among the younger generation.

Respecting privacy of others is essential. However, that does not seem possible anymore, not because of those inquisitive oldsters sitting in Beijing's hutong (alleyways), parks and teahouses, but because of the massive surveillance programs of the United States National Security Agency.

For example, the NSA has been capturing and storing international calls and e-mails in and outside the United States and in many foreign countries. If they want, they can play back what I talk about with my mom in Shanghai when I phone her from Washington. It's like sending a letter through the post office, and the clerk there secretly opening it and scanning it before delivering it. If found out, the clerk will tell you it was for national security.

This may sound bizarre and scary, yet it's a reality today when the NSA operates the world's largest surveillance infrastructure.

The relative indifference and silence in the US in front of such aggressive intrusion of privacy is astonishing. It raises the question of how much Americans still value privacy, or don't they care if it is said to be for the sake of so-called national security.

It would certainly be a relief to the oldsters in Beijing to know that with their simple questions they are not intruding in the privacy of foreigners at all, and are in fact befriending others.

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