President Obama facing diplomatic blowback over Snowden revelations of foreign surveillance

President Obama facing diplomatic blowback over Snowden revelations of foreign surveillance

President Obama is experiencing direct diplomatic consequences related to leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden after Brazil’s president called off a scheduled visit.

Reuters reports that President Dilma Rousseff canceled the trip after learning that the US government had spied on her and her constituents. The plans had been put on hold earlier in the month. The Brazilian government issued a statement regarding the decision:

Illegal surveillance practices intercepting the communication and data of citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government constitute a serious affront to national sovereignty and individual rights, and are incompatible with democratic cooperation between friendly nations.

Snowden’s revelations about the alleged efforts the US had taken to keep tabs on its own allies emerged this summer. Brazilian officials responded by reaching out to Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald in an effort to learn more about the extent of the spying that took place. The country has also floated a threat that would require Internet services like Google and Facebook to set up local Brazilian data centers that would comply with local privacy laws.

Obama now faces the difficult task of regaining the trust of foreign officials. Earlier this month, a German police helicopter buzzed the US Consulate in Frankfurt, ostensibly to search for eavesdropping equipment said to have been used at US diplomatic installations around the world. The unannounced flyover was innocuous, but it still reflects the displeasure that is growing among foreign powers.

The current tension over American intelligence policies doesn’t have a quick resolution. Jay Carney, a spokesman for the White House, told Reuters that the current review process will “take months to complete.”

After promising to form an independent review committee as part of several reforms, Obama appointed members of the committee last month. However, the committee has been criticized as far from independent since it contains several insiders from the White House and intelligence communities.

Pressure from foreign governments could have an important impact on bringing deeper reforms to the NSA’s surveillance apparatus. One cancelled trip won’t amount to much on its own, but the situation could escalate quickly if other leaders follow suit.

Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

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