Last week, WikiLeaks published documents revealing that the National Security Agency has eavesdropped on the past three French presidents. While the accuracy of these documents has yet to be officially confirmed, according to the New York Times, French president François Hollande has already condemned these alleged surveillance methods against allies, calling them "unacceptable." Hollande has since met with his top ministers and army commanders to discuss the allegations.
This type of reveal, of course, is not without precedent. In 2013, Edward Snowden-obtained documents showed that the NSA had been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal cell phone. Unsurprisingly, this outraged German citizens, who were already upset over previous reports of the United States's rampant gathering of telecommunications data.
Having had its hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar multiple times, have these repeated offenses changed the world's perception of America? It would seem so: Just last week, the Pew Research Center published a survey detailing global opinions of world leaders, including the U.S. and China. And while their findings don't quite paint the U.S. as a global villain, the outlook is still not great.
In countries like Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany, the number of citizens who think the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its people has dropped by as much as 40 percent.
Through nearly 50,000 interviews conducted in 40 nations over the course of three days, Pew researchers found that, in recent years, the image of the U.S. has indeed suffered as a result of these surveillance revelations. In countries like Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany, for example, the number of citizens who think the U.S. government respects the personal freedoms of its people has dropped by as much as 40 percent. Unsurprisingly, Germany shows the starkest change over the last two years, with the percentage of respondents who think the U.S. respects its citizens' personal freedoms dropping from 82 to 43. Germany joins Russia and Argentina as the only nations polled whose respondents mostly thought America did not respects its citizens' personal freedoms. (Even Americans are pretty split on this issue; only 51 percent of the U.S. thinks their government respects individual freedoms today, down from 63 percent last year, and 69 percent in 2013.)
Our information collection methods aren't the only factors behind this change in international perceptions: American interrogation methods are a contentious issue, with an average of only 35 percent of respondents saying the United States' use of torture post-9/11 was justified. There is, however, overwhelming support for U.S. military effort against ISIS, with an average of 62 percent of responding nations in favor. The pro-fighting ISIS numbers soar in particular countries—84 percent in Israel, 81 percent in France, and 78 in South Korea, for example; only in Russia and Argentina were the majority of respondents opposed.
The survey, which worked to "examine the balance of power," asked nations about their views on China as well. While the researchers found that most people "continue to believe that China either will eventually replace or already has replaced the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower," China is still seen globally as a major violator of basic freedoms, with only 34 percent of polled nations believing that China respects its citizens' personal liberties. While 43 percent of Germans, a recent victim of America's information gathering regime, think the U.S. respects its citizens' personal freedoms, only six percent of Germans thinks the same about China.
The public perception of America, still regarded as the world’s leading economic superpower, is a deeply complicated, malleable issue—answers change depending on who, what, and when you ask. After all, Germany could just be having a "proper freakout."