DIGITAL AMERICA

Snowden, Wikileaks, and Global Debate (Tec Collaboration)

// Posted by on 02/14/2014 (3:12 PM)

By Cassaundra Fincke, Kevin Carney, Sarah Crawford, and Emily Narduzzi

“The War on Wikileaks and Why It Matters,” written by Glenn Greenwald for Salon Magazine, provides an interesting analysis of the work being done at Wikileaks, and what our government trying to stop their existence says about our national privacy as a whole.  Essentially, Greenwald supports Wikileaks for their efforts to expose classified government information because some of the safety nets to expose improper governmental activities have been largely derailed.  He makes claims regarding how the media has been “co-opted” and “crippled by financial constraints,” which has affected our ability as citizens to see investigative reporting regarding the dealings of the government.  Furthermore, he states that our Congress provides almost no meaningful oversight in regards to regulating the secretive work of other government organization, and moreover, the Congress is largely controlled by the individuals who wish to maintain the secrecy of these governmental organizations.

According to Greenwald, this is where Wikileaks comes into play.  In the midst of an age gone digital, he attests that Wikileaks protects the American public because the government has secrecy “at an all time high.”  Wikileaks is essentially intended to keep the government honest because as long as they exist, they cannot act in secrecy without fear of being exposed to the general public.  Julian Assange, the editor of Wikileaks, claims that “the information which is concealed or suppressed is concealed or suppressed because the people who know it best understand that it has the ability to reform.  So they engage in work to prevent that reform…”  Greenwald applauds these efforts to expose information put forth by Wikileaks, and repeatedly commends the group for doing what the media and Congress fail to do for the American citizens in this day and age.  However, I raise the question, what do you mean by reform, and why are we seeking this large scale reformation?

I do not doubt that the US Government may be “at an all time high” with secrecy, but I do not believe they can really be blamed for being in such a state.  As a world power, the United States is susceptible to many threats, and we are also still within a time period where 9/11 is glued in the minds of every American citizen.  As a result, the American government takes steps to make sure that they can preserve our safety.  I do not know of a single government in the world that does, or should, keep military operations and top security items in the open for the public.  This is not even because I do not trust the American people, but more so because once information is in the open to the American people, then it is in the open to anyone with an internet connection.

As Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore discuss in their article, “The End of Hypocrisy,” this new lack of privacy also threatens all foreign policy of the United States.  Many governments and citizens around the globe have observed that the U.S government doesn’t always stick to its word, but because of the level of involvement the U.S has in global affairs there have been many blind eyes.  After Snowden’s disclosure these governments had the right and the obligation to address the hypocrisy of the U.S. So this disclosure has two possible effects on our foreign affairs.  It forces the government to face its hypocrisy and may force to government to remain steadfast in its policies and reconsider going against these policies for our self-interest.  The leaks could also possibly steer different nations to address the occasional hypocrisy of our country’s government.

From here arises questions regarding the leaking of our governmental information.  Are the leaks putting our foreign policy in jeopardy?  If so, how should the U.S go about fixing this?  As mentioned before total transparency in our government is not practical.  The leaks may force the U.S to disclose more foreign policy information and act in accordance to this.  Wikileaks not only brought up the issue of security and privacy but also the issue of foreign relations and the trustworthiness of the U.S. Is being a reliable country worth giving up the pursuit of self-interests?  The answer, I believe, is yes.  Now how much of this requires American transparency?

There obviously has to be some semblance of privacy in order to ensure effective military operations and a strengthened ability to protect our American way of life.  And returning to my question prior asked, I feel no need for this “reform” that Assange mentions.  I am extremely happy as an American citizen, and I am proud of the measures the American government takes to keep me safe.  I respect Wikileaks attempts to keep the government honest by knowing that they cannot do whatever they want in complete secrecy, but I worry about the harms Wikileaks poses to the American public.  One day they could choose to leak a piece of information that is truly determinantal to American society, and then their efforts to provide a system of checks and balances has turned into a very hazardous situation.  My opinion, if you really want a better way to keep our government accountable for their actions, then lets find a more structured way to do it.  Wikileaks is an independent organization with their own agenda, and I do not feel comfortable with them trying to keep our government honest all on their own accord.  I do not trust someone who states, “I enjoy crushing bastards, I like a good challenge.”  This all seems fine and well until something overly sensitive gets leaked and it affects our country’s ability to effectively respond to a dangerous situation.  You raise a good cause Wikileaks, but let’s be more structured about this, and please keep your independent reformation to yourself.

Additionally, the statement that “The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever,” is pretty ironic. The NSA’s job is essentially to protect our government who can therefore protect our country. With the intense secrecy, you would think that they would not be able to do their job. However, on the contrary, it does make sense that certain things need to be kept under wraps.  Our country would not operate as well as it does if everything was constantly exposed to the general public. It is quite interesting and confusing still, considering the wikileaks ethicality and role through the process. How do they choose what information to publicize? What is worth it to them to relay to the general public? Often times these outings can create situations of panic and can potentially cause more harm than good. It is hard to know the difference between crossing the line and posing genuine concern for our country’s safety. It is also extremely difficult for authority to step in and respond in these situations. As discussed in the riot article, at least at the moment, it would be extremely difficult (perhaps close to impossible) for police to keep an eye on these social media sites. “Police would need to monitor social media with a level of intelligence—attuned to popularity, cognizant of slang, filtering for location—that right now is beyond the reach of even sophisticated tech startups, let alone cash-strapped police departments.”

From reading the “Edward Snowden” article by Greenwald, MacAskill, and Poitras in The Guardian, it is clear that Snowden is of the cyber liberation school of thought. Snowden says he does not view himself as a hero for exposing the government because “what [he’s] doing is self-interested: [he doesn’t] want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.” The cyber liberation view argues that information wants to be free, meaning everyone should have the right of free speech in what they post on the internet, and have the assurance of privacy from companies and the government. As we all know, this is not the case today. As a high school student, you are constantly warned that college admission officers can easily hack onto your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts, and use what they see against you in the admission process. Once getting to college, this fear is even further instilled in us with higher stakes: potential employers will easily look up your social media accounts to screen them for things that may reflect poorly on job applicants. I was shocked to learn in class on Tuesday that some employers will even make you log into your Facebook in the middle of an interview, which many of us believe is a total violation of privacy and very unethical. The founding fathers of our country originally regulated government control in areas such as the right to privacy so that the government would not overstep their bounds. In this sense, Snowden is right to call the spying a “threat to democracy,” however some problems could arise with total internet freedom as well. For example, it has been said that the government is notified whenever someone Googles “how to make a bomb.” In cases like this where potential terrorists could be Googling these things, government surveillance and intervention could be seen as a positive thing. The fact that one can so easily Google search how to make an explosive bomb as well as many other harmful things is a scary thought in and of itself. However, I believe government regulation becomes too invasive when they start tapping phone lines and e-mail accounts. Where do you stand in this debate? What are some of the positives and negatives of cyber liberation you see?

I also noted a quite paradoxical aspect of this article. Throughout the beginning of the article, there are many quotes from Snowden saying things such as, “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” However, the rest of piece focuses completely on Snowden’s background, job history, and how he came to the decision to expose the truth. This, along with every conversation I’ve had about government spying since this story broke, leads me to the conclusion that it is difficult, if not impossible to discuss this case without talking about Edward Snowden. Despite his intentions, he will forever be linked to this scandal (it is often even referred to as the Edward Snowden case). Having a person linked to political scandal gives the common people a hero as they can praise Snowden for exposing the truth about how their government is deceiving them, while also giving the government a scapegoat. Snowden has also remained very in control of how the story is told.

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was

legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that

would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t

my goal. Transparency is.” He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to

journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should

remain concealed.

Snowden arguably chose to speak to Greenwald because he knew Greenwald also believes in cyber liberation, and would thus tell Snowden’s story and information in a favorable light. In that sense, one could argue that even though Snowden is exposing the truth, there is still a level of regulation at play in terms of what documents he discloses, and to whom he’ll tell his story.

Given that this is a collaboration week, we can have some great discussions about the effects of this scandal. Snowden cites his travels to Geneva as part of what prompted him to eventually speak out. He says, “much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.” What are some differences between the U.S. and Mexican governments? What did you think of the Snowden case/ government spy leaks from an international perspective? Do you think government regulation is a good thing, or should we be pro- cyber liberation?

 


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Comments:


Tec said...

Hi guys, I would like to respond to your great contribution.

First of all, as I imagined, you tend to justify the U.S. government for pursuing Snowden and the other whistleblowers. You say that “this new lack of privacy also threatens all foreign policy of the United States”, from the article of Farrell and Finnemore, justifying that they have not stuck to their word on the other government’s eyes. I agree with that. But, to take on a more newly news (sorry the redundancy), what about the recent allegation of many world governments about the NSA spying Merkel, Hollande and other Prime Ministers of mainly European countries?

You protect U.S. government by saying that 9/11 is still in your minds, but honestly it’s not in the European minds. Does this justify not only military interventions, but even spying other Heads of States? For counter-terrorist measures?

I’m getting to my point: there must be a limit of what a government should do to protect its national security, and it’s the old concept of my freedom begins where your freedom ends.

Not only, governments have not the right of privacy, as Grennwald said too, because we are all living in democracies, here in Mexico, in the US and in Europe. They actually have the opposite: the obligation of transparency, to let people know what they are doing. You guys cite in your comment that you don’t know any government that does not act with secrecy. I agree with that, but is their right, as part of the world in 2014? I don’t agree on this.

I believe we have the right, as citizen electing our governments, that those must tell us exactly their policies, intentions and motivations. Then, if they don’t, well I must say it’s a shame.

But thank God there is people like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange than, in the name of democracy, make those governments that are so full into hypocrisy, a little more transparent. Because if those are the kind of secrets that the whistleblowers managed to reveal, imagine what kind of secrets are really off the screens. So, I tend to justify the actions of the whistleblowers.

// 02/20/2014 at 6:13 pm

Tec said...

Arturo Alejando Cruz Marroquín
Tec de Monterrey
a01175005

Hello:

I would like to share my point of view about your post, I would start with the comment “As a world power, the United States is susceptible to many threats, and we are also still within a time period where 9/11 is glued in the minds of every American citizen” as any citizen in the world we regret what happened to your country, but the fact that a country suffered a tragedy does not give them the permission to invade other country sovereignty by spying their political activities and this is even worst when those country’s are allies, from here arise this question, how would you feel as an American about that an allied country is spying at your government or trying to manipulate your country political activities on their own benefit? I think this is not acceptable for any country and that definitely could damage the international relationships between those countries.

I think that what Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore discuss in their article, “The End of Hypocrisy,” is the need for the united state to stop double international speech, at the beginning you might think that this leaks has damage international relationships but at the end if the double international speech stops would let us a much stronger international relationships between the countries.

Answering your question “Do you think government regulation is a good thing, or should we be pro- cyber liberation?” Any government is empower by their people to establish rules and regulate internal policies to ensure national security, and its going to be an internal matter to establish the reach of the government on their citizens private life and this would be different for every country but thanks to Wikileaks and Snowden we realize the need of international rules to create boundaries on the cyberspace to ensure national sovereignty for every country.

// 02/22/2014 at 12:33 pm

Tec said...

- Roberto Alviso (Tec’s Student)

Dear fellow students, in my opinion the debate is not how people in the line of Assange or Snowden are trying to keep out government honest. “The End of Hypocrisy” article states correctly that American government cannot follow his two-faced diplomacy and should decide between openly undermine the values that has always claim to defend – freedom and democracy – or reform their relationship with the international community. However, this issue has existed since around the start of the second quarter of twentieth century, when the U.S. started to have enough power to mingle in affairs outside its jurisdiction. Evidence is in all of the interventions they have in Latin America during the Cold War, which intended to prevent Soviet sphere of influence reach the continent.

Hypocrisy has been a constant; the real issue that has been now exposed is the enormous surveillance network that U.S. government is building behind our backs. This network affects both, the international community and the American citizens. Law recognized government’s intelligence agencies and the questionably legal work that they make with private corporations that handle private data are breaching all Internet users’ privacy, including that of their own citizens.

I am going to take the risk and state that U.S. is worried. It is worried because the country thought the end of the Cold War was it; that the U.S. will maintain its supremacy for the years to come. That is not what is happening. The country is getting weaker and, in order to maintain power, they are considering their own citizens as a possible threat.

I find it interesting, yet not surprising, to read a reference to the airplane crash in New York fourteen year ago. I had always thought about that date as a mystification of U.S. foreign policy. Of course I condemn the attack and I feel pain for the lives lost. However, the story that U.S. government has built around it initiated a fierce policy on prevention for inner and foreign security issues. This means that now all are possible suspects and a possible threat to country’s national security.

“That’s right, the NSA has launched one of the largest data collection programs in U.S. history that monitors who we call, how long we talk to them, who they called, and where our calls were made from, all in order to “maybe” catch one bad guy”, states Rep. Ted Poe in an article published in Fox News (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/02/11/day-fight-back-against-nsa-spying-and-big-government-big-secret/) Rep. Ted Poe highlights that Patriot Act permits targeted surveillance with a court’s authorization. He continues, “no judge would permit this but that is the type of action the NSA does through massive metadata collection. Government spies simply cannot disregard the law just because it is inconvenient”.

The cyber space is now a battle field where it does not matters if a crime has been carried out, but if the possibility of a crime arises. This discourse has strengthened government’s call for the need of surveillance as a way to assure national security. This discourse has also pushed a great part of American population to accept the breach in their privacy in order to feel safe. This is alarming if we consider that the division between the private and the public sphere has been part of the foundational stances of U.S. nation. In other words, the protection from State’s abuses of power given by the law to the citizens has been undermined in this start of the twenty first century.

I sustain Internet regulation is desirable. As I mentioned in my contribution (http://tocqueville.richmond.edu/digitalamerica/?p=2647), this new area of interaction between citizens is also a new stage where the citizen should be protected from the abuse of State’s power. We need to find the correct legal framework in which privacy rights and security assurance can be harmonized.

// 02/23/2014 at 3:29 pm