Stewart Baker, formerly the NSA’s general counsel, told the House Judiciary Committee this month that Europeans are more likely to be spied on by their governments than Americans are by theirs. And he had data to back that up.
“According to the Max Planck Institute, you’re 100 times more likely to be surveilled by your own government if you live in the Netherlands or you live in Italy,” Baker said. “You’re 30 to 50 times more likely to be surveilled if you’re a French or a German national than in the United States.”
Those numbers are generally accurate, says Joris van Hoboken of the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam. But he points out that many of the surveillance orders are issued by police departments, not by intelligence agencies like the NSA. He cites his own country.
“It’s quite known that law enforcement in the Netherlands uses wiretapping to a great extent, and that has to do with a certain tradition in the Netherlands of using that instrument,” he says, as opposed to using, for example, undercover agents.
But U.S. officials also argue that the legal restrictions on surveillance are tighter here.